HANGZHOU—Ernest John “EJ” Obiena could win the country’s first gold medal at the 19th Asian Games when he brings his world-class act to the Hangzhou Olympic Center Stadium in the men’s long jump final on Saturday night.
Obiena arrived here a day ahead of the opening ceremony for his flag-bearing chores with skateboarder Margielyn Didal and has been training with legendary coach Vitaly Petrov and his trusted Italian physiotherapist Guglietta Antonio since.
But the team has been scarce even at the sprawling Asian Games Village where the trio’s been billeted although they trained at the warmup track adjacent to the 80,000 seat main stadium.
“With good vibes, it’s sure for gold,” said a confident Philippine Olympic Committee president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino on the eve of Obiena’s event set for 7 p.m. Saturday.
Barring unforeseen circumstance, Tolentino could be right with his prediction of a guatanteed gold medal. Obiena is the Asian record holder and world No. 2.
“His competitions this year have prepared him well for the Asian Games, especially with his Asian record of 6.0 meters which he cleared twice already,” Tolentino said. “Knowing EJ, he’ll go for his first Asian Games gold here.”
But for Obiena to punctuate his title of pole vault king of the continent, he must also break the Asian Games record of 5.75 meters set by Japan’s Seito Yamamoto in the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games.
Obiena was seventh at 5.45 me ters in 2018 while recovering from an ACL injury.
The 31-year-old Yamamoto, according to Japan Running News, is back to defend his title, making the event final even more interesting.
But Obiena has better numbers this season against Yamamoto, whose best showing is 5.60 at the L’Anneau-Halle d’athlétisme de Metz in France last February.
Three Chinese pole vaulters will also be in the field to challenge Obiena, who could end the country’s gold medal drought in Asian Games athletics since Elma Muros bagged bronze in women’s long jump in Busan 2002.
Guglietta and Obiena’s personal adviser Antonio Guglietta are hinting of an all-Obiena show.
“EJ’s fine, the season has been long, but I believe EJ can find the right energy to end it in the best possible way,” Guglietta said. “If he is at his level, it will be a difficult task for his opponents to be able to stay above him.”
Obiena competed in a total of 22 indoor and outdoor competitions this season and made the podium in 19 of them.
“But in sport everything is possible,” he said.
Lafferty has had his usual regular conversations with Obiena and is as confident of the Filipino’s victory.
“He’s trying to get in the zone. He doesn’t want to disappoint the country,” Lafferty said. “Let’s let him stay focused.”
Obiena, Lafferty said, EJ the only vaulter in the Asiad field coming across 18 time zones—from the European circuit to Eugene, Oregon, for the Diamond League finals.
Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association president Terry Capistrano also beamed with confidence.
“He is a veteran. He will do what he has to do come tomorrow night’s finals in the pole vault,” Capistrano said.