OLYMPIC-BOUND pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena is managing to keep his spirits up while training at the IAAF elite training center in Formia, Italy despite the week-long nationwide lockdown in one of the European countries hardest-hit by the Coronavirus Disease.
“Morale is definitely affected but things go on and the preparations continue,” Obiena told Malaya-Business Insight when asked about his status in the Italian coastal city 166.7-kilometers southeast and a two-hour drive from Rome.
“We are still continuing the preparation in the training center but we are limited inside (the venue), with just the athletes going to the Olympics,” added the lanky pole vaulter, who became the country’s first Olympic qualifier after ruling the Salta Con L’As competition in Piazza, Italy on Sept. 4, 2019 with a vault of 5.81 meters. His record-breaking achievement surpassed the Olympic qualifying standard of 5.80 meters.
Obiena, who finally won his first SEA Games gold medal last December with a new Games record of 5.45 meters, has been training at the IAAF training center for over four years now under noted Serbian coach Vitaly Petrov, the former coach of Olympic and world champion Sergey Bubka.
Despite the crisis, the athlete said that nothing had changed much in his training regimen.
“Not much different. Training in the morning at 9 a.m., fill up forms then go to the track,” he said. “Then cook lunch because the restaurant is closed due to the virus. Then afternoon training continues.”
Italian government authorities placed the country in lockdown last March 9 to curb the spread of the contagion.
Obiena’s mother, Jen, said their family had been communicating with EJ since the lockdown, adding he’s okay and that center was restricted to athletes preparing for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan in July.
Like any other mother, the elder Obiena said that “we are worried and prayers na lang ang hawak namin.”
She said that she and her husband, national pole vault coach Emerson, had thought of urging their son to return home in the wake of the present developments in Italy.
“We considered it. But we decided that it might not be the best thing for EJ in his preparations for the Olympics,” she said. “If my son returns he would be placed under a two-week quarantine and won’t be doing anything.”
She added that she had asked the Philippine Sports Commission to help in the athlete’s plight “and they immediately promised to help in meeting my son’s needs in Italy.”
This would include financial assistance for Petrov and a physiotherapist as the younger Obiena continues his Olympic preparations.
She also expressed her gratitude to Manila-based American fitness and conditioning coach James Lafferty, who once trained the national athletics squad, who pledged to send a supply of face mask to the pole vaulter to safeguard his health.
“My son also requested additional face masks for his fellow athletes and coach Jim (Lafferty’s nickname) said he would send more.”