ATHLETICS chief Philip Ella Juico is bullish about the medal prospects of Tokyo Olympics-bound pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena, who has shown remarkable progress in his Euro indoor athletics campaign.
“Without being overconfident, we are very bullish about EJ’s (Obiena’s nickname) Olympic chances. The last few weeks have been an indication where he is headed for,” Juico said in the Philippine Sportswriters Association virtual forum yesterday.
“I even saw an image of him already receiving the gold medal, the Philippine flag going up, and the Filipino people teary-eyed,” the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association president said, envisioning Obiena accomplishing the milestone.
“But we have to sustain this momentum. It’s already there. It’s within reach. Sabi nga nila, abot-kamay na,” he stressed in the public sports program backed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., San Miguel Corp., Smart, Go for Gold, Milo, Braska Restaurant and Amelie Hotel.
After setting a new national indoor mark of 5.80 meters at the ISTAF Berlin meet last Feb. 6, the lean and lanky pole vaulter set a new national record of 5.86 meters at the Olren Cup in Lodz, Poland last Friday (Saturday in Manila), a stunning six-centimeter improvement in just a week, en route to a second place finish.
Juico is confident that Obiena is the country’s brightest athletics medal hope since Miguel White copped a bronze medal in the men’s 400-meter hurdles in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
“They must be doing something right. It’s a combination of talent, hard work and technology,” he noted, while citing the financial support being given by the Philippine Sports Commission led by Chairman Butch Ramirez that has enabled Obiena to sustain his campaign as well as other track and field Olympic hopefuls.
Juico said Obiena, the 30th Southeast Asian Games gold medalist, still has two more indoor events on his schedule, including the Copernicus Cup in Torun, Poland today (Thursday morning in Manila) where some of the world’s top pole vaulters will also see action.
He said the country’s other Olympic athletics aspirants such as hurdles specialist and Rio Olympic Games veteran Eric Shawn Cray, sprinter Kristina Knott and pole vaulter Natalie Uy, who are all based in the US, are also in the thick of their build-up in their bid to make it to Tokyo.
“Cray is doing very well and on the right track. They are correcting certain things, especially on his strength and conditioning, and he plans to compete in meets in Texas near his base in Austin and neighboring states.”
The Florida-based Knott is set to compete in the American Track League 4, a World Athletics indoor tour event, this coming weekend at the Randal Tyson Indoor Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas while Uy is still recovering from a wrist injury.
But William Morrison, who made his golden debut in the 30th Southeast Asian Games in the men’s shot put two year ago, has decided to abandon his Olympic hopes to address some personal problems, according to Juico.
“He has officially told us that he was sorting out some personal problems but would prepare instead for the Vietnam Southeast Asian Games and hopefully qualify for the 1994 Paris Olympics,” he explained.
The former PSC chairman said he is also aware that another Fil-Am sprinter, Zion Corrales Nelson, is also bidding to qualify for the women’s 200-meter run in Tokyo “but we still have to be formally informed about her intention.
“Of course, we will consider her if she qualifies since she is a member of the national team.”
Corrales was a member of the national quartet that took the silver medal in the women’s 4×100-meter relay of the 30th SEA Games at the New Clark City Athletic Stadium in Capas, Tarlac.