EJ Obiena credits 'efficient' 2020 season to Ukrainian coach

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 24) – If there is one secret to Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena's stellar 2020 season, it is his Ukrainian coach who gave him enough exposure and confidence to achieve his best form.

The 24-year old pole vaulter credited Vitaly Petrov, who believed that the bemedalled athlete can compete with the world's best in his sport.

"I was never mentally or physically strong," Obiena recounted. "He showed me that I can be and he coached me day in day out and in and out of the track. I owe where I am now to him."

Obiena also cited Petrov as a big factor to help him overcome his recent physical and mental struggles due to his nagging back pain and the limited training opportunities brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I was sure that this year would be bad but that's what makes Vitaly great," he added. "He helps me get over these things and push through and I am happy that I did listen to him and that I did compete."

The pride of Tondo recalled that when he first came to Petrov's training camp in Fornia, Italy in 2014, his only goal was to achieve a 5.20 meters clearance. The trust given to Obiena's talent by the 82-year old coach enabled him to aspire for more as he competed and won in high-profile tournaments over the past few years.

"Vitaly opened the doors for me and showed me my potential as a pole vaulter," Obiena said. "Without Vitaly, I wouldn't be in Diamond Leagues competing with the best of the best."

The 6'2" Filipino pole vaulter won six medals in the eight tournaments he participated in this year since August. He won the gold medal at the 59th Ostrava Golden Spike and silvers at the 13th Trivento International Meeting and the "Who is the Finest Pole Vaulter in the World?" competition.

He also won the bronze at the Monaco Diamond League and Poznań Athletics Grand Prix. His other bronze medal finish at the Rome Diamond League was special to him as he leaped into his season-best record of 5.80 meters.

In these tournaments, Obiena tasted some world-class competition as he battled the likes of world record-holder Armand Duplantis of Sweden, Ben Broeders of Belgium, Sam Kendricks of the United States, Renaud Lavillenie of France, and fellow Petrov student Thiago Braz da Silva of Brazil.

"Last year, I performed quite well but not as efficient as this year," said Obiena, who opted out of the Doha Diamond League scheduled Thursday (Sept. 24) due to visa issues. "One of my mentors told me that this year, I belong in the circuit and I'm one of these guys and that's something I was aiming for."

Petrov also guided Obiena to achieve his personal best 5.81 meters clearance at the Italian tournament in September 2019, which earned him the distinction of being the first Filipino to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

The Ukrainian mentor was also in Obiena's side when he broke the Southeast Asian Games pole vault record, winning the gold in the competition held at the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac in December 2019.

Obiena also thanked his father Emerson for introducing him to Petrov.

"Without my dad's guidance I wouldn't be here," he said.