POLE vaulter Ernest John Obiena is hell-bent on raising the bar of excellence in the Tokyo Olympic Games in July.
“Win the gold, that’s it man. That’s a really hard goal to achieve, but that’s the goal. That’s why I’m doing all of this, not to get second and not to get third… to win it,” Obiena said in a lengthy interview posted on the Olympic Channel website being run by the International Olympic Committee last Monday.
Since the country first took part in the modern Olympic Games in 1924, the best ever finish by Filipinos in the quadrennial global sports showcase has been three silver medals, the latest from weightlifter Hidylin Diaz in the 2016 Rio Olympiad.
The others were boxers Anthony Villanueva and Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco in the 1964 Tokyo and 1996 Atlanta editions, respectively.
Based at the World Athletics elite training camp in Formia, Italy, Obiena, who was interviewed shortly after testing negative in his latest COVID-19 test, posted the link of the article on his Facebook account yesterday, thanking the Olympic Channel for featuring him.
“Thank you Olympic Channel. A bit long read but informative about me, the world of pole vault and the goal (hoping, and working hard for it),” said the country’s first Olympic qualifier.
After booking a new national record of 5.86 meters with a runner-up finish at the Orlen Cup in the Atlas Arena in Lodz, Poland last February, Obiena said he is going after the 39-year-old Asian mark of 5.92 meters set by Kazakhstan’s Igor Potapovich in 1992 at a meet held in Dijon, France.
While gunning to break the Asian record, Obiena said it wasn’t all about the numbers but winning a competition as well.
“So I have this height goal that I want to achieve but at the same time not every competition presents the chance for you to make that bar, you know,” he said. “When it comes to competition I focus more on the bar that’s set right now. So I think the best kind of mindset going into the competition is just that I need to be the guy who jumps higher than the rest of the field…I focus on winning the meets.”
The article noted the outstanding indoor season Obiena had early this year where he had two gold-medal clinching wins, one runner-up, one third place and one fifth-place finish in the six competitions he saw action in, mostly against an elite cast he is expected to face in Tokyo.
Among them is Swedish-American sensation Armand Duplantis, who holds the world record of 6.18 meter and looms as the top favorite to win it all in the Japanese capital.
“Mondo (Duplantis’ nickname) is a once in a lifetime kind of generation…a unicorn,” Obiena noted. “You know he is just crazy good and he makes kind of everything kind of look easy.
“He jumps six meters almost every competition and that’s just unthinkable, only Sergey (Bubka, the former world and Olympic champion) was able to do that back in the day. But having Mondo in the field makes me push myself a little bit more.
He stressed that despite their rivalry on the field, he and Duplantis are “good friends, but we’re like very competitive as well. I don’t know if he feels that way, at least for me whenever he is in the field, I want to bring that A game.”
Another foe in Tokyo is reigning Rio Olympic men’s pole vault king Thiago Braz, who has been Obiena’s training partner at the World Athletics elite training camp since 2015 under famed Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov, who was also Bubka’s mentor.
He said the Brazilian’s hometown success five years ago makes him believe that anything could happen, and that the bright golden light could shine on him in the Land of the Rising Sun.
“A lot of people were saying that he (Braz) was a nobody going into Rio, like ‘who is this guy, who is Thiago Braz?’” Obiena recalled. “And little did they know that almost every competition during that circuit he tried to jump six meters.
“But Thiago wanted it so bad that he made it work. He made 6.03 (meters) on the biggest stage of his life in his home country and an Olympic record. That’s just crazy.”
Obiena, who looks up to Braz like an older brother, wants to emulate his training partner’s feat, saying: “And now I am really hungry for that. I really want that. I’m working on everything that could boost my chances of getting gold that day (in Tokyo).”