Ernest John “EJ” Obiena (PNA photo courtesy)
MANILA — Ernest John “EJ” Obiena isn’t only setting his goal high but far and wide with his fellow Filipinos in the core as the world No. 3 is bent on bringing his world-class pole vaulting colleagues to Philippine soil in an invitational competition in 2023.
To name a few—world No. 2 Chris Nilsen, Rio 2016 Olympics gold medalist Thiago Braz and, yes, world and Olympic champion and world record holder Armand Duplantis.
All three of them—and several others—in the flesh showcasing their high-flying acts Filipino fans will be witnessing live for the first time.
“The objective is to bring them here after the outdoor season’s over,” Obiena told Philippine Olympic Committee President Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino in one of their conversations since the world championships bronze medalist came back home for a vacation with his girlfriend, German long jumper Caroline Joyeaux, a week ago.
Tolentino readily agreed and the first order of battle was to choose a venue.
“The Picnic Grove here could be an ideal venue,” said Tolentino, referring to the favorite destination of local and foreign tourists in Tagaytay City, where he’s now back as its mayor.
The setup, according to Obiena, will be similar to those in Europe—a street venue where the runway, the box, crossbars, and landing area are all portable or collapsible.
“With the Taal Volcano as the backdrop, what more could you ask for—a world-class pole vault action in one of the most picturesque tourist attractions in the country,” Tolentino said. “Every jump will be postcard-perfect.”
The European outdoor season ends in early September and with the Asian Games in Huangzhou set for the same month next year, Obiena and Tolentino are looking at late September or early or mid-October as a potential date.
“The event will be a spectator-friendly event, and it’s planned that it be sanctioned [by World Athletics],” Obiena said.
Tourism, Tolentino said, will be a victor in the event.
“It’s great for tourism and the Philippines will be on the international pole vaulting map,” Tolentino said. “It’s very doable despite next year’s busy schedule. It’s going to be a big event so we have to plan this carefully.”
The Philippine Sports Commission, now chaired by Noli Eala, would play a crucial role in the event, according to Tolentino, who also agreed with Obiena to bring in some three-dozen world-class pole vaulters, both men, and women.
“We are hoping to work with POC and PSC, it’s a mix collaboration,” said the 26-year-old Obiena, the 2019 and 2022 Southeast Asian Games gold medalist.
“I also love to see Hackett de los Santos experience and compete with the best athletes,” added Obiena, referring to the silver medalist at the Vietnam SEA Games last May.
Obiena said the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association under its new president Terry Capistrano would also play a major role.
“This is going to be historic that’s why I am pushing for it,” said Obiena, who also intends to encourage the PSC, local government units, and big business to put up more pole vaulting venues around the country. “Pole vault is a standard competition so it’s doable.”