Ernest John Obiena lived up to the hype and hope, delivering the Philippines’ first gold in the 19th Asian Games with a record-smashing, history-making performance at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium on Saturday night.
As expected, Obiena obliterated the field, which included his training partners under legendary coach Vitaly Petrov, as he soared to a gold-clinching and record-smashing 5.75 meters in the pole vault finals.
But Obiena, Asia’s best and the world’s no. 2 pole vaulter, wasn’t finished.
After shattering the Asian Games’ record of 5.7 meters set by Japan’s Seito Yamamoto with his gold-medal jump, he reset his minutes-old mark by leaping to 5.9 meters in just one try, to the wild celebration of several Filipino supporters in the stands. They were led by his teammates, Philippine Olympic Committee president Rep. Bambol Tolentino, and athletics chief Terry Capistrano.
Wanting to give his coach a fitting birthday gift, Obiena then asked for the bar to be adjusted to 6.02m in an attempt to break his own Asian record, but he missed all his attempts.
“I think he (Petrov) just has to wait a little longer,” said Obiena, whose gold was the first for Team Philippines in these games, to go with a silver and 6 bronze medals at 18th place overall.
It was also the first gold medal in athletics in 37 years since Lydia de Vega’s 100-meter conquest in the Seoul Asiad and the first athletics’ medal of any color in 29 years since Elma Muros’ bronze feat in the long jump competitions of the 1994 Hiroshima games.
China’s Huang Bokai and Saudi Arabia’s Hussain al Hizam recorded 5.65m, with the former taking the silver on countback. Both are Obiena’s training partners under Petrov.
“We pushed through. I think we were able to do what we needed to do and bring back the goal for the country, which is the most important thing. No complaints about that. And I think you guys have also made it pretty clear. You know the pressure’s a privilege. Thank you. It’s a privilege to be able to be in this position where the whole country is literally expecting (you to win),” said Obiena, the World Championships silver medallist and the only Asian man to have jumped 6.00 meters.
Meanwhile, SEA Games champion Janry Ubas advanced to the finals of the men’s long jump event with a leap of 7.79 meters, finishing third in Group B qualification and third overall on Saturday at the HOC Stadium.
The 29-year-old Filipino, ranked no. 51 in the world, has a personal best of 8.08 meters and will try to secure a medal in the finals set on Sunday at 7:10 p.m.