Filipino pole vault champion Obiena eyes Olympic medal

Dubai: Asian pole vault champion Ernest John Uy Obiena has admitted that he’s in it to win it as he targets a maiden virtual competition featuring champions from across the globe, early next week.

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Obiena will be one of four contestants in a unique virtual pole vault competition featuring European champion Paweł Wojciechowski, US Indoor champion Matt Ludwig and special invitee Hussain Al Hizam of Saudi Arabia, at 9am US Eastern Standard Time (5pm UAE) on August 17.

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An initiative organised and sponsored by UAE-based Fine Hygienic Holding (FHH), one of the world’s leading wellness groups and manufacturers of hygienic paper products, the world’s top pole vault champions will be vaulting from three countries across the globe in a competition that will be live-streamed online.

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Just 24, Obiena the first Filipino athlete to be offered a scholarship by the International Athletic Association Federation (IAAF) that enables him to train overseas.

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Wojciechowski is a former world record holder and reigning European champion and Ludwig holds the US Indoor world record, while Saudi Arabia’s Al Hizam won the gold medal at the 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games.

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“I am here to win it. No doubt, there have been times in the past when I did not have that confidence that made me feel I could win anything I entered. But things have been different for me now and I feel I have slowly evolved inti an athlete that’s always hungry for success,” Obiena told Gulf News from Monaco, where he is participating in the Wanda Diamond League in Monaco scheduled later on Friday.

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“Any time I enter a competition I am aware of the strengths and weaknesses of my fellow competitors. And through this I have evolved to know what exactly I need to do to win the gold medal. This competition on Monday will be no different as I will be there to win it,” he added.

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Born in Manila’s Tondo District on November 17, 1995, Obiena’s parents Emerson and Jeanette were both track and field athletes from the Philippines. After starting off in the 100 metres and 400 metres hurdles during school, Obiena went on to set the Philippine national record in pole vault with a jump of 5.55 metres on April 29, 2016 during the 78th Singapore Open Championships in Kallang, Singapore.

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He came in contact with James Michael Lafferty, the Chief Executive Officer of Fine Hygienic Holding, who still also doubles up as his coach and confidant. Obiena’s dream break came in early 2014 when he landed up in Formia, Italy with the legendary Vitaly Petrov, who has so far coached at least seven world champions, including iconic pole vaulters Sergey Bubka and Yelena Isinbayeva, among others.

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His evolution as a world-class athlete took time, and by 2019, Obiena went on to better the continental record with a jump of 5.71 metres during the 23rd Asian Athletics Championships held in Doha, Qatar. His next big one was the gold at the Universiade held in Naples, Italy while bettering his personal best with a jump of 5.76 metres.

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“The thinking now is I go into a competition confident that the gold medal is meant for me. The rest of the jumpers can decide who can win the silver and bronze medals,” Obiena said.

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“It’s been a long journey so far. Training in Italy with coach Vitaly has helped me refine all my techniques. Back home, it was just about the rudiments. But now it is totally about the scientific and advanced methods of progressing to being the best I can be in my sport.”

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Bubka dominated the pole vault for more than a decade breaking the world record the first time in May 1984 with a height of 5.85m until an amazing 17th instance with a height of 6.14m in July 1994. That mark remained untouched for nearly 10 years until Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie raised it to 6.16m.

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However, American Armand Duplantis, who prefers representing his native Sweden, re-wrote the mark to 6.17min Poland on February 8 this year before raising it by another centimetres to the existing 6.18m barely a week later at a meet in Glasgow.

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After that, the world shut down with the coronavirus pandemic and athletes, like everyone else have struggled to cope with the void. Obiena had been holed up in Italy all this time, but that has not stopped the Filipino athlete from aspiring for a historic Olympic medal.

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Obiena’s progression has been slow, yet steady as he has gone on to improve from 4.90 metres at the Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar to a respectable 4.76 metres in his gold medal at the Naples Universiade last year.

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“I have competed with Armand,” Obiena said. “He’s good and he is an inspiration no doubt. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be the best. I am here because I deserve to be here, and I am here for a medal. This medal is never going to be easy, but I need to just believe that I am among the best. This can come only through hard work on and off the field and through training. Everything that I have needs to be channelised into energy to achieve this one goal. I am going to make it happen.”

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