Legend-maker Vitaly Petrov will plan EJ Obiena’s Olympic blueprint at season’s end
BANGKOK—Locked in on clearing 6.02 meters, EJ Obiena picked up his pole, broke into a run and went for the mark at Supachalasai National Stadium.
He grazed the bar on the way down, nullifying the attempt.
It was enough for his coach, Vitaly Petrov, to understand how much work there is left to be done.
“EJ can jump 6 meters, but I saw that 6 meters is not enough for next year’s Olympic Games,’’ said Petrov, Obiena’s renowned Ukranian mentor who has produced Olympic and world champions.
Obiena preserved his men’s pole vault title with a new 5.91-meter record in the just-concluded 25th Asian Athletics Championships here, but missed erasing his own personal best of 6 meters after tipping the 6.02-meter bar over thrice.
Saudi Arabia’s Hussain Al Hizam placed second after clearing 5.56 meters while China’s Huang Bokai took the bronze in 5.51m, joining Obiena at the podium. Both Alhizam and Bokai also train under Petrov.
“We understand that maybe it’s necessary to jump 6.10 to 6.15 in the Olympics. But I must assess what he (Obiena) would show me after this season, what he finished,’’ said Petrov.
Petrov knows exactly what is needed for gold in the Olympics. Under his tutelage, legendary vaulters Sergey Bubka and Yelena Isinbayeva and Brazilian ace Thiago Braz have won golds in the Summer Games. “If he finishes okay [this year], the program continues. If not, there will be changes,’’ added Petrov.
Obiena became the first Filipino qualifier to the Paris Games after hitting the 5.82-m Games standard in the Bauhaus Galan meet in Stockholm, Sweden, immediately a day after the Olympic qualification window opened on July 1.
The world’s third-ranked vaulter and Asian record-holder left this Thai capital early Monday on his way to the Monaco leg of the Diamond League on July 21 with Petrov and physiotherapist Antonio Guglietta.
Obiena is a favorite for another medal finish at the World Athletics Championships in Hungary, on Aug. 19 to 27 and he will do a couple of tournaments more in Europe before closing his season in the Asian Games in China.
“We must go higher. This year we’re close to [Mondo] Duplantis and will try and prepare harder,’’ said Petrov.
Duplantis of Sweden is the reigning Olympic and world champion who owns the world record of 6.22 meters. Obiena caught the Swede on a bad day last year in a Diamond League in Belgium and won the gold over the world No. 1.
This year, the 27-year-old from Tondo, Manila, inched his way upward to the world standard by joining the elite 6-meter club last month in the Bergen Jump in Norway.
And with his rise came loftier expectations, something Petrov is keen to temper.
“Why do people always put an Olympic gold medal on him (Obiena)? It’s not easy,’’ said Petrov.
“[An Olympic] Gold now is a difference of 22 centimeters and we try to do maximum results as possible. We just prepare for good competition. Not only for physical and technical, but also mental,’’ he added.
“Pole vault runs for three hours. You must be patient, wait and maintain your energy at a high level,’’ said Petrov.
To keep up with Obiena, the 77-year-old Petrov swears that he does regular exercises to keep him in great shape.
“I must do workouts because this boy (Obiena) has been killing me,’’ said Petrov, laughing.
He produced three golds in the Olympics—Bubka (Ukraine) in 1988 in Seoul, Isinbayeva (Russia) in 2008 in Beijing and Braz (Brazil) in 2016 in Rio De Janeiro—and two bronzes for a total of five Olympic medals and six world titles.
“Who knows? I could make it six [in the Olympics] next year,’’ said Petrov with a wink. INQ