Chinoy pole vaulter EJ Obiena once again proved to be the pride of the country when he broke yet another national record at the Perche Elite Tour in Rouen, France last Sunday.
Ranked fifth in the world, Obiena cleared 5.91 meters for the men’s indoor pole vault event, just 0.01 meters short of the existing Asian record held by Kazakhstan’s Igor Potapovich. Ultimately, this allowed Obiena to clinch the silver medal behind Chris Nilsen of the United States, who posted his own personal best of 6.05 meters. 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Thiago Braz took third place after also clearing 5.91 meters in the tournament.
Following this momentous feat, Obiena immediately took the chance to show his support for Ukraine amidst its ongoing conflict with Russia, pointing to his baller designed with the colors of the Ukrainian flag. After the competition, Obiena posted a photo of the event on Facebook.
He wrote, “My heart and thoughts are with you. Silence never helped the oppressed or the abused.”
The PATAFA feud continues
Prior to this, Obiena had spent the earlier parts of the season collecting gold medals in the Orlen Cup and Orlen Copernicus Cup in Poland. Last September, he also broke the 23-year-old Asian outdoor record held by Potapovich.
However, despite his consistent streak of success, Obiena still finds himself embroiled in what has been a months-long feud with PATAFA on allegations of embezzlement and misuse of government funds.
In the latest turn of events, PATAFA has opted to not include Obiena in the list of track and field athletes, which includes 53 other members, to participate in the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games to be held in Hanoi, Vietnam on May 12 to 23.
As the reigning pole vault SEA Games champion and the only Asian to qualify for the pole vault Olympic finals, Obiena has long been considered to be the country’s best bet for what should be an easy gold medal.
In a press statement released on Tuesday, Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino commented, “I can only shake my head. This is horrible. Barring serious injury, EJ will win the gold medal even blindfolded in Hanoi. He’s not only the best in the SEA Games but in the whole of Asia — not to forget that he’s no. 5 in the world.”
“An NSA relentlessly sanctioning its no. 1 athlete — a guaranteed win, and who knows? A future world and Olympic champion. I just couldn’t find the logic,” continued Tolentino.
PATAFA previously announced that it would not endorse Obiena to any future international competitions while mediation between the two parties remains ongoing. Obiena’s non-inclusion in the list will also result in his absence from the World Indoor Championships scheduled on March 18 to 20 in Belgrade, Serbia since the registration for the competition ended last Monday.
In the meanwhile, the POC has maintained that it will continue its fight to include Obiena in the national team, referencing an International Olympic Committee (IOC) provision that allows national Olympic committees the authority to send athletes to international competitions.