Athletics: Pole-vaulter EJ Obiena’s back issues not a concern, says mom

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Jun 16 2020 05:28 PM

EJ Obiena, currently training in Italy, has decided to stay away from social media to focus on preparing for the Tokyo Olympics. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file

Italy-based pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena, the country’s first Olympic qualifier, has gone on a social media embargo to focus on his preparations for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“I’m taking a few weeks off to refocus and find my zen. Take care and love y’all,” Obiena posted recently on his Facebook page in tuning out the distractions while training at the World Athletics elite camp in Formia, Italy. 

He became the first Filipino athlete to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games last Sept. 4, 2019 in clearing 5.81 meters to exceed the qualifying standard of 5.80 meters at the Salto Con L’Asta competitions in Piazza, Italy.

Obiena and Brazilian Thiago Braz da Silva, the 2016 Rio Olympic men’s pole vault champion, have been working out under noted Serbian coach Vitaly Petrov, who mentored world and Olympic champion Sergey Bubka.

The lanky athlete’s last interaction with media back in Manila was during a zoom conference on May 24, organized by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association.

He detailed his life in the Italian coastal city some 167.8 kilometers southeast of Rome during the early days of the country’s lockdown. Italy was among the European countries hardest hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic with 237,000 confirmed positive cases and 34,345 deaths. 

Jen Obiena, who keeps tabs on his son regularly, said on Monday that Ernest John’s decision to cut off from social media “is good for EJ (Obiena’s nickname), because they are now increasing his workload in the event he resumes competing in August.”

Obiena said his son was eyeing to resume competition in the Monaco leg of the Diamond League Series on Aug. 14, although they were keeping their fingers crossed because the meet is by invitation only. 

She added that, unlike March, there were fewer restrictions in Formia, so now “so my son can move around more.”

The pole vaulter, however, has eased off a bit over the past two weeks due to recurring lower back pain that he has been complaining of since early January after the 30th Southeast Asian Games, according to the elder Obiena.

“But it is really nothing to worry about because EJ just stops vaulting once he feels the back spasms coming on,” she said. “There is a physiotherapist always around while he trains and he also went to see a chiropractor about the problem. He is also strengthening his (stomach) core muscles to protect his back”

PATAFA spokesman Edward Kho surmised that the pain keeps coming back for the 6-foot-2 pole vaulter, “because Obiena is a tall boy. Since vaulters land on their backs that area usually gets hurt often.”

Kho also approved of Obiena’s decision not to be engrossed with social media “because it shows his single-minded attitude to train hard and bring glory for the country in Tokyo next year.”

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