By Riera U. Mallari
HANGZHOU – On the night he was Christened with many names – superstar, best friend, history maker and breaker of records, the one title that best described Ernest John Obiena was the simplest – gold medalist.
Living up to the hype and hope of a Philippine Team that was in search of its first gold in the 19th Asian Games, Obiena obliged with a record-smashing, history-making performance at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium on Saturday night.
As expected, Obiena obliterated the field that 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 world’s no. 2 pole vaulter, wasn’t finished.
After shattering the Asian Games’ record of 5.7 meters 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, led by his teammates, Philippine Olympic Committee president Rep. Bambol Tolentino, chef de mission Richard Gomez 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 of 6 meters, but 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 spot overall.
“He’s my best friend,” said runner-up China’s Huang Bokai, who trains with Obiena under the guidance of Petrov. “He has been helpful to me for the past months.”
“He’s a superstar,” said Saudi Arabia’s Hussain al Hizam, another one of Obiena’s training partners, who settled for the bronze. “Hopefully, I can make it more difficult for him in the future.”
Obiena’s feat 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.
“We pushed through. I think we were able to do what we need 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.
Truly, we can call Obiena many labels, but tonight, the one with the greatest significance had its true weight in gold.