Olympic pole-vaulter EJ Obiena starts busy month with Austria competition

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Sep 04 2020 09:00 PM

Accompanied by Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov, expect a more focused and settled Ernest John Obiena when the Olympic-bound pole vaulter sees action in the Golden Roof Challenge of the Golden Fly athletic series Saturday in Innsbruck, Austria.

“Unlike in the Poland meet last month, coach Vitaly will be with EJ (Obiena’s nickname) this time so I expect him to be better prepared physically and mentally,” said the athlete’s father-coach Emerson Obiena, who chatted with his son last Thursday before leaving for the event.

The elder Obiena bared that Petrov, head coach of the World Athletics elite training camp in Formia, Italy, that serves as the home base of Obiena and Brazilian Rio Olympic champion Thiago Braz, was not at his son’s side when he competed in the Janusz Kusocinski Memorial meet in Chorzow, Poland, last Aug. 25.

Based on the Emerson’s observation, the country’s first 2021 Olympic qualifier had a tentative outing at the World Athletics Continental Tour silver event and wound up fifth place with a jump of 5.62 meters.

A sign that his son was distracted in Poland, the elder Obiena said, was the fact he began his performance at the unusually low height of 5.22 meters, far below his national record and personal best of 5.82 meters.

But with Petrov, who has been handling Obiena since 2015, guiding EJ, Emerson said he expected his son to do better in the picturesque Austrian city that was the site of the 1984 and 1988 Winter Olympics and the 1988 Winter Para Games.

To be staged in downtown Innsbruck, the trackfest is the brainchild of Austrian national athletics coach Armin Margreiter and will be conducted on “The Flyswat,” reputedly the “largest mobile track and field facility in the world certified by World Athletics.” 

Obiena will be up against an elite cast of entries, among them reigning US indoor champion Matt Ludwig, who has a personal best of 5.90 meters, and Dutchman Menno Vloon, the silver medalist in the Janusz Kusocinski Memorial competition (5.72) and has a personal best of 5.85 meters. 

Emerson Obiena said that the men’s pole vault event will start about 6 p.m. in Austria, or 12 midnight of Saturday.

He added that his son will hardly have time to rest after the Innsbruck event since EJ and Petrov will head for the 59th Ostrava Golden Spike meet, a World Athletics Continental Tour gold event, in the Czech Republic on Sept. 9.

Among those who have previously seen action in the event was former world and Olympic sprint champion Marion Jones, who ruled the women’s 200-meter dash in the 2002 edition. 

“They will be joined in Ostrava by Thiago Braz who saw action in the Lausanne leg of the Diamond League athletics series (last Sept. 2),” the elder Obiena, also a former national pole vault standout 2005 PH Southeast Asian Games silver medalist, said.

He added that EJ might take part in four to five more events this month, including the Rome leg of the Diamond League athletic series, the Pietro Mennea Golden Gala, on Sept. 17.

“EJ informed me that he was hoping to get an invitation to the Rome event because it near their training camp in Formia,” Emerson said of the meet to be held in the Italian capital, which is about 166.7-kilometers and a two-hour drive from the seaport city where his son works out.

Obiena had a solid outing at the Monaco leg of the Diamond League series, capturing the bronze medal in clearing 5.70 meters behind Swiss-American Armand Duplantis, who ruled the event with a jump of six meters flat.