TOKYO – Sluggish and nervous, Ernest John Obiena jumped 5.75 meters.
Imagine what he could do if he isn’t.
With his nerves nearly getting the best of him, Obiena was still able to match the leap of the world’s best to advance to the men’s pole vault finals of the Summer Olympic Games at the Tokyo National Stadium here on Saturday.
“Based on his body language, I knew something was wrong,” said Obiena’s father/coach Emerson, who watched from the sidelines of an eerily quiet, almost empty stadium. “But I also know that he’d deliver when it mattered.”
Obiena did, as he leaped 5.75 meters in his third attempt after two failed tries to clinch a seat in the Aug. 3, 14-man final round, where he is the only Asian to qualify.
The 25-year-old Obiena had the same leap as world no. 1 and record holder Armand Duplantis of Sweden, no. 3 Piotr Lisek of Poland, no. 4 Renaud Lavillenie of France, no. 5 Christopher Nilsen of the United States and no. 7 Thiago Braz of Brazil, the Rio Olympic champion.
“I was just feeling very sluggish, which is really strange. I didn’t feel like me until the bar moved at 5.75m at first attempt,” said Obiena, who couldn’t explain his feeling of lethargy.
“There was no reason why I felt that way. When I woke up this morning, I felt normal, and a bit lazy. I was trying to tell myself I don’t feel nervous, but now, I felt more and more nervous,” said Obiena, the world’s no. 6-ranked pole vaulter.
Obiena started the competition by easily clearing 5.5 meters and then 5.6 before nerves nearly got the best of him when the bar was raised at 5.75.
The top Filipino pole vaulter, who has been training in Formia, Italy for years, expects a dressing down from his Ukrainian Vitaly Petrov, after which they plan to move on with a clean slate in the finals.
“For the next round, I’ll talk to my coach about our game plan. I know he’s gonna be mad right now for what I did. I didn’t follow some of his calls, and I was struggling mentally, then I didn’t feel that confident,” said Obiena, adding his coach can explain his sluggishness.
“I don’t know what happened, I need to ask my coach, he would know what went wrong,” he said.
Obiena’s personal best was the Philippine record of 5.87 meters he achieved at the Irena Szwewinska Memorial/Bydgoszcz Cup in Poland, but he will need to jump at least 6 meters against the championship field, which has five members of the elite “6-Meter Club” in Braz (6.03), Lavillenie (6.16), Lightfoot (6.0), Duplantis (6.18) and Lisek (6.02).