Pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena, who only recently became the first Filipino athlete to qualify for next Year’s Olympic Games, will spearhead the Philippines’ campaign in athletics in the coming Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) the country is hosting late this year.
The 23-year-old son of pole vault great Emerson Obiena, who leaped to 5.81 meters to break by mere .01 meter the Olympic qualifying 5.80 meters, is a cinch to make the national track and field team along with 16 others, announced Philippine Athletics Federation President Philip Ella Juico.
Juico appeared in last Friday’s Scoop (Sports Communicators Organization of the Philippines) Forum On Air at The Manila Times Television studio along with team training director Renato “Nonoy” Unso.
The duo, likewise, disclosed that the team will be “aspiring” to win no less than 13 gold medals.
“I used the world aspiring not targeting because that is what we have inculcated in our athletes’ minds from the time we form the national training pool and the moment they started training,” Juico explained.
“I told them if’s not a sin to dream, so we -might as well start dreaming winning 13 gold medals, baka nga ma-realize,” Juico told program co-hosts, Scoop President Eddie Alinea and Agnes Razal.
Unso, for his part, asserted the dream is really not an impossible dream.
“Based on our athletes’ latest performance , including that of last SEA Games’ results, where we won five gold medals, puwede ngang makuha ‘yung 13 golds,” he said.
He was referring to a pair of first place finishes fashioned out by hurdler Trenton Verona, decathlete Drios Toledo and marathoner Joan Tabal, one each in the Games’ 2017 staging in Kuala Lumpur.
“Add EJ’s potential gold in pole vault this year, so, anim na. Plus that of Eric Cray’s in the sprint and Zion Nelson’s in the 400 meters. Kaya talaga,” he exclaimed.
Both Juico and Unso said they expect athletics to be represented by a 30-strong contingent.
Final tryouts are set September 15 and 29 at the 20,000 New Clark City Stadium where members of the training pool are currently staying and where athletics competitions will be held.
Should Juico’s and Unso’s dream materializes, this year’s performance would be a great improvement on the 11 gold medals the 1983 and 1985 teams brought home from Singapore and Bangkok, respectively.
“Besides, our athletics teams naman ang undeniably laging nangunguna sa paramihan ng gold-medal harvest each game since the Philippines first competed in 1977,” Unso reasoned out.
Unso was referring to the Philippines’ total 120 gold medals athletics won in 21 editions of the Games participated in by Filipino runners, jumpers and throwers. He himself contributed a pair in hurdles in the 12th staging in 1983 in Singapore.
The Philippines had a total 49 gold medals in its second overall finish in that edition and 43 in its 1985 third place windup in the 13th edition.
Obiena, actually, will be trying to maintain his winning ways that started on April 21, Easter Sunday when he broke the PH’s 100-year gold-medal drought in pole vault when he leaped to then a personal best 5.71 meters during the 23rd Asian Athletic Championships held in Doha, Qatar.
Before that Asian 2019 tilt, leaper Alo Antonino remained the lone Filipino to have won a gold in pole vault when he beat the finest from Japan and China during the 4th Far Eastern Games in Manila in 1919.
This coming September 28, also in Doha, according to his mom Jeannette, a top notch hurdler in her athletic days, EJ will be competing in the World Track and Field Championships as his final tune up before flying home for the SEA Games. EDDIE G. ALINEA