MANILA, Philippines – A gain of 26 centimeters in a year is something pole vaulters can only dream of but for Ernest John Obiena it is just one step to the 2015 Southeast Asian Games in Singapore six months from now.

Obiena, 19, and an engineering student at UST, won one of the two first-ever gold medals for the Philippines in the Asean University Games in Palembang last week where he beat the 2013 SEA Games silver medallist and a rising Thai bet.

He overcame jitters on his third and last attempt to clear 5.10 meters and beat Pooranot Phoorahong of Thailand and Iskandar Alwi of Malaysia, who placed second in the 2013 SEA Games. “I told myself that I can’t let everything I had done go to waste,” Obiena said in a phone interview with Rappler Tuesday, December 23.

For the Singapore showdown, Obiena said anything can happen. He and SEA Games champ Kreeta Shintawacheewa of Thailand have surpassed the 2013 winning jump of 5.15m this year. “I have jumped 5.21 and Kreeta (Shintawacheewa) has done 5.20, so it will be an even battle,” said Obiena, who placed fourth in the 2013 Games.

Obiena began the year at 4.95 meters but after he came back from his two-and-a-half month training with the coach of former world and Olympic champion Sergey Bubka in Italy, everything came together.

First, clipping the 22-year-old national mark of 5.01 held by Edward Lasquete with a 5.05 meter leap in the weekly relays late July. Then, he matched Kreeta’s winning jump of 5.15 meters in the weekly relays in August and later won the Singapore Open in a new national mark of 5.20m. It is the best performance by a Philippine track and field athlete this year.

Obiena’s feat is rare in local athletics. “Before, there weren’t enough poles and there was only one landing pit (in Rizal Memorial). Now, there are quite a lot of poles and training has improved,” said former national coach Jojo Posadas, now UE coach, in a phone interview with Rappler.

Posadas said his former FEU teammate, Dario de Rosas, who became pole vault king in the mid-1980s, had to make do with one pole.

Obiena’s two-and-a-half month training in Milan has done wonders. As Obiena told in an interview last July :””He taught me a lot of things. I have to be aggressive on the approach and on planting the pole but have that control,”

There is no break for him as Singapore looms. “After this week, it’s back to training next week,”




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