Ex-vaulter Emerson Obiena offers dual perspective as dad, coach to Olympian EJ

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Aug 31 2020 03:26 AM

Emerson Obiena and son EJ celebrate the latter's victory at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. Last week, Emerson said he felt EJ lacked confidence at a Poland competition. “My son doesn’t usually start this way,” he said. Karl Cedrick Basco, ABS-CBN News/file

As father and coach of Olympics-bound pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena, former national pole-vault standout Emerson Obiena believes he knows his son more.

But the elder Obiena was surprised by the way EJ performed last Tuesday in Europe on the way to finishing fifth with a jump of 5.62 meters at the Janus Kusocinski Memorial athletic championships at the Silesian Stadium in Chorzow, Poland.

Emerson, who saw the event in the wee hours of the morning online from Manila, noted that it was an atypical performance for EJ, who owns the national record of 5.81 meters but started his jump at the low height of 5.22 meters. 

“To jump that low I think di mataas ang confidence level ni EJ. Parang nagpapainit pa muna ng makina. My son doesn’t usually start this way. (To jump that low I think EJ's confidence level was not high. He was like a machine warming up),” Emerson said. 

Recovering from his lackluster outing at the Stockholm leg of the Diamond League athletic series the weekend prior, two-time American world champion Sam Kendricks cleared 5.82 meters to bag first place while Menno Vloon of the Netherlands settled for runner-up (5.72 meters).

Germany’s Raphael Holzdeppe settled for the bronze (5.62 meters) in his first try, relegating compatriot Torben Blech (5.62) to fourth. 

The elder Obiena, who bagged a silver medal in 1995 Southeast Asian Games in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said he talked to his son shortly after his performance and he quoted the athlete saying, “Dad, I felt flat.”

“Since EJ was physically OK, I believe what happened to him was psychological,” Emerson said.

Underscoring the apparent tentativeness of his son, Emerson said, was the fact that EJ, the country’s first Tokyo Olympics qualifier, nailed 5.62 meters on his third and final attempt at the height.

The 30th Southeast Asian Games gold medalist then pulled off another surprise move in “saving” the last two of his three tries after failing to clear 5.72 meters on his first attempt, with the elder Obiena explaining the reason behind it.

“He (EJ) was aiming to preserve energy in an all-out bid to clear 5.77 meters with the two tries he had left,” Emerson said after the field of eight entries was reduced to five after the 5.62-meter mark.

“Si EJ na kasi iyong last man diyan sa 5.72 kaya magiging maiksi lang iyong pahinga niya for the next height. Malaki ang energy expenditure sa ganyang level ng laro. (EJ was the last man competing at 5.72 so his rest would be short before attempting the next height. The energy expenditure level at this level is high).”

Emerson acknowledged that EJ nearly made it, clearing the bar before hitting it with his torso while going down. 

He cited that it wasn’t just his son who had an off day since Polish entries Pavel Wojciekowski and Robert Sobera also had dismal performances despite playing before a hometown crowd.

Wojciekowski, who cleared 5.90 meters in topping the European indoor athletics meet in Glasgow, Scotland last year, and Sobera wound up seventh and eighth, respectively, after clearing identical 5.42 meters.

Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association president Philip Ella Juico, however, was satisfied by Obiena’s showing. 

“EJ did rather well by placing fifth. We still believe that he is on course for the Olympics. He is physical prepared and the best thing to do now is to remain focused and not be distracted by extraneous concerns,” Juico said.

Next up for EJ, Emerson confirmed, is the IAAF Continental Sept. 8 to 9 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.