Obiena won’t be home for Christmas


IT would be Christmas Italian-style for Asian men’s pole vault record holder  Ernest John “EJ” Obiena for the third straight year.

Celebrating the holidays with his family in Tondo would have to wait another year.

“This will be my third straight Christmas here,” the Tokyo Olympian Obiena told BusinessMirror from Formia, Italy, where he would be practically locked down for God knows when at the moment. “I was here since 2018.”

“If I go home, I can’t go back here [that easily] because I am not on the list of those who can return here as of the moment,” the Tokyo Olympian Obiena said. “I don’t have a [employment] contract, I am not officially working here, not a resident nor a citizen.”

“And I don’t have any immediate concern so I can’t go home then simply come back here,” the 25-year-old Southeast Asian Games gold medalist added.

The Philippines is on the Italian Immigration’s E list of countries and travel from this group borders from very strict protocols to forbidden.

Obiena said that Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino wrote the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) for the Filipino athletes’ clearance and “some understanding” on his desire to return home to the Philippines.

The CONI has yet to reply.

So for now, Obiena would continue training under long-time Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov at the world pole vault center in Formia. His focus is the World Indoor Athletics Championships set from March 18 to 20 in Belgrade.

“Belgrade’s the closest major competition for me,” said Obiena, who competed uninoculated in Tokyo but already got two doses of Pfizer vaccines upon his return to Italy in August.

The 31st SEA Games in Hanoi in May and the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou in September would have to wait, Obiena said.

“The indoor season here in Europe comes first so I’ll first focus on that,” he said.

Obiena has been undergoing a spartan-like training since arriving in Italy three years ago. And the lure of Italian food are banned from touching his palate under his regimen.

“There’re a lot of delicious pizza here, but we can’t eat them because we’re following a very strict diet,” said Obiena, whose training is bankrolled by the Philippine Sports Commission under Chairman William Ramirez.

Obiena was not in his elements in Tokyo and finished second to last at 11th in the final won by world record-holder Armand Duplantis. He recovered soon after by shattering the Philippine record twice—the first last August 29 at the Diamond League in Paris where he clinched silver medal with 5.91-meter effort.

He came back stronger on September 12 at the Golden Roof Challenge in Innsbruck, Austria, where he broke the 29-year-old 5.92-meter Asian record that Kazakhstan’s Igor Potapovich set in 1992 with a jump of 5.93 meters to snare gold.

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