Team PH parades its greatest chance at gold in EJ Obiena
Still hunting for its first gold after more than a week of the 19th Asian Games action, Team Philippines unveils the biggest gun in its small artillery as pole vaulter EJ Obiena finally sees action.
Easily the country’s best golden hope being ranked second in the world in his sport, Obiena just seeing action comes as a whiff of fresh air, more so after Nesthy Petecio bombed out of the women’s 57-kilogram (kg) boxing event as she followed several high-profile Filipinos that hit the deck earlier than expected.
And Obiena knows exactly the weight he is carrying.
“I understand that I have a target on my back. The pressure is building up, but that’s a privilege,” Obiena said after his final practice Friday at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium in Hangzhou, China. “I have to be committed in every jump.’’
But for those on the outside looking in, Obiena being the region’s reigning two-time champion and record holder at six meters looks unbeatable.
“Physically, I know what I’m capable of, but more than half of the game is mental,” he said. “There are a lot of things that’s out of my control that do play a part in my performances.’’
China’s Yao Jie, whose personal best is 5.82 meters (m), poses as the biggest threat to Obiena with Japan’s Seito Yamamoto (5.75m), Chinese Huang Bokai (5.75m) and Saudi Arabia’s Hussain Al Hizam (5.70m) listed as long shots.
Obiena, Al Hizam and Bokai, all training under renowned Ukranian coach Vitaly Petrov, finished 1-2-3 during the Asian championships two months ago in Bangkok, Thailand.
Petecio, a silver medalist in the Tokyo Olympics, took a 4-1 beating at the hands of Chinese Taipei’s Lin Yu Ting as the boxing contingent took a huge blow in another shutout day for the Philippines.
“It was her style of fighting against mine. She was able to impose her style,’’ said Petecio in Filipino after the 2019 world featherweight champion trailed early and never recovered in her first fight.
The loss also reduced the 31-year-old Petecio’s chances of making it to the Paris Olympics next year. Making the final match here would have guaranteed Petecio of a slot.
Last boxing hopes
“We are not done yet. We will continue to work even harder,’’ said Petecio.
Petecio’s exit left the national boxing team’s hopes on Olympic medalists Carlo Paalam (men’s 57kg) and Eumir Marcial (men’s 80kg) and heavyweight John Marvin (men’s 92kg).
So far, one silver courtesy of sanda fighter Arnel Mandal and six bronzes have been delivered, including the third-place effort of Alex Eala and Francis Casey Alcantara on Friday in tennis mixed doubles.
“With good vibes, he’s sure of the gold. Knowing EJ, and because he’s yet to win an Asian Games gold medal, he’ll go for it,’’ said Philippine Olympic Committee president Bambol Tolentino.
Obiena finished out of the medal race in the 2018 version held in Indonesia after recovering from an ACL injury at the time.
“EJ is fine (this time). The season has been long, but I believe that EJ can find the right energy in the best possible way. Surely if he’s at his level, it will be a difficult task for his opponents to be able to stay above him,’’ said Guglietta Antonio, Obiena’s physiotherapist.
The Tokyo Olympian’s other motivation could be the Asian Games record, with defending champion Yamamoto continuing to hold on to it with that 5.75-m effort chalked up in Jakarta five years ago.
Obiena also got a silver medal at the Diamond finale in Eugene, Oregon behind world champion and record-holder Mondo Duplantis of Sweden.
This will be the last tournament this year for Obiena before he plunges into his training plan for the 2024 Paris Olympics beginning in January.