OLYMPIC-BOUND pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena relishes the prospects of competing in the star-studded Monaco leg of the prestigious Diamond Athletic series on Aug. 14 , which he says promises to be a preview of the men’s pole vault finals of the Tokyo Olympic Games next year.
“I know the world champion will be there, the world record holder will be there, the Olympic champion will be there,” Obiena noted last Tuesday, four days after clearing 5.45 meters to bag a silver medal in the 13th Trivineto athletic championships in Trieste, Italy.
“Whose gonna be there (in Monaco) will probably be also there in the men’s pole vault finals in Tokyo,” added the country’s first Olympic qualifier in a webcast organized late Tuesday night by pinoyathletics.info. “It’s gonna be big.”
Among those who are tipped to see action in the blue-ribbon meet at the 16,000-seat Stade Luis II are reigning American world pole vault titlist Sam Kendricks, rising Swedish-American star Armand Duplantis who currently holds the world record of 6.18 meters; and Rio Olympic Games champion Thiago Braz.
Braz and Obiena are training partners under Serbian coach Vitaly Petrov, who also mentored former world and Olympic champion Sergey Bubka, at the World Athletics elite training camp in Formia, Italy.
Also expected to take part in the event is Frenchman and three-time European champion Renauld Lavillenie, a 2012 London Olympic Games gold medalist, who held the previous world mark of 6.16 meters for six years until Duplantis broke it twice this year.
On top of the prestige in joining the best in the discipline, a top prize of $10,000 (roughly P490,000) will be awarded to the Monaco leg men’s pole vault champion, with the runner-up and third placer getting $6000 (P294,000) and $4,000 ($196,000), respectively.
Rather than being daunted in going up against elite opposition, Obiena said he’s pumped at the prospects of competing against the world’s best.
“To be honest, I look forward to it. I like competing against these guys,” the tall and lanky athlete said. “I get more excited against someone who is a hell lot better than me. I wanna be in that competition because they kinda drag you up.
“If the competition is good you really sink to it. You even forget that you’re competing and just say ‘I want to jump to heights that he has jumped.’”
Obiena said the Trieste meet gave him enough time to tweak and make adjustments to his form and execution before the Monaco event.
“I made a lot of mistakes on my runway approach and which poles to use. Now, we can make those adjustments,” he said, attributing his rusty performance to a nearly seven-month layoff since winning the gold in the 30th Southeast Asian Games at the New Clark City Athletic Stadium in Capas, Tarlac last December.
Although his showing in the Trieste meet matched his gold-medal performance of 5.45 meters in the SEA Games, he was way off his national mark of 5.81 meters that clinched him a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics. The qualifying mark is 5.80 meters.
“I should be able to clear 5.45 on any given day. I know that I can jump better than that. I wasn’t just in the right position or using the right poles,” Obiena said. “It wasn’t as smooth as we wanted it to be.”
He said his back spasms were still bothering him slightly but added it had vastly improved since he went through two weeks of rehabilitation to loosen and relax the back muscles in Stuttgart, Germany last July.
“I still cannot say it’s 100 percent but it’s a work in progress,” he explained. “If I were to rate the pain, it would be around five, maybe four but recovery wise (on the back muscles) I believe I’m still eight out of ten. We’re working on it but it’s not easy.”
If all goes well, Obiena said “I should be able to do 5.70 or 5.80 meters in Monaco. If I get 5.70 then I’ll be happy, especially with the condition I am in right now.” He added that clearing 5.90 meters would be enough to win the gold in the Diamond League series.
Although it would be his first time to compete in the Diamond League, he said he’s also looking forward to competing in Monaco since Bubka, his benefactor, is residing there.
“I am expected to meet Bubka so it should be a nice and happy reunion,” Obiena said of the World Athletics vice president who tapped him to become a scholar of the World Athletics elite training camp to train with Bubka’s former coach more than five years ago.