By Jean Malanum
MANILA – All eyes will be on pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena as the Philippine athletics team seeks to end a three-decade medal drought in the 19th Asian Games scheduled from Sept. 23 to Oct. 8 in Hangzhou, China.
Long jumper Elma Muros is the last Filipino to win a medal in athletics in the Asian Games, winning the bronze in Hiroshima, Japan in 1994.
“EJ is our best bet to win a medal,” said national coaches Isidro Del Prado and Dario De Rosas during the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) forum at the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) conference hall inside the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex on Tuesday.
The world’s No. 2 Obiena has qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics after clearing 5.82 meters at the Diamond League-Bauhaus Galan in Sweden last July 3.
He duplicated his Asian record of 6.0m to win the silver medal at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary in August.
During the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, Obiena finished seventh.
Long jumper Janry Ubas, a protégé of De Rosas, is also determined to perform well after winning the gold medal in the Cambodia Southeast Asian Games last May.
“Ready kami ngayon sa Asiad. Hopefully, maka-sungkit ng medalya (We are now ready for Asiad. Hopefully, be able to win a medal),” said De Rosas in the weekly session presented by San Miguel Corporation, MILO, PSC, Philippine Olympic Committee and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation.
The 29-year-old Ubas of Misamis Oriental won the bronze medal in heptathlon at the Asian Indoor Athletics Championship in Kazakhstan early this year. He bagged the gold medal in long jump in two European tournaments in Italy and Finland.
De Rosas believes that Ubas, a national record holder in long jump with 8.08m, can win the bronze medal if he surpasses his personal best.
“Hopefully, kung makukuha niya ulit yan, puwede tayong mag-bronze medal siguro (Hopefully, if he gets that again, maybe we can win a bronze medal),” said De Rosas, who also coaches Sarah Dequinan (heptathlon) and Ronnie Malipay (triple jump).
Del Prado said winning a medal at the Asian Games will be a big challenge for the quartet of Fil-Am Umajesty Williams, Frederick Ramirez, Joyme Sequita and Michael Carlo Del Prado, which claimed the gold medal in the Cambodia SEAG.
“Malakas ang India, Japan, China, and Sri Lanka sa 4×4. Kaya nauna kong sinabi sa kanila na to give their best to break the Philippine record of 3:06.47 (India, Japan, China and Sri Lanka are strong in 4×4. So I told them first to give their best to break the Philippine record of 3:06.47),” said the former anchor of the famed “Bicol Express” 4×400 men’s relay team in the ‘80s.
“Hopefully, makapasok tayo sa finals (Hopefully, we can enter the finals),” Del Prado said.
The semifinal will be on Oct. 3 and the finals the following day.
Other members of the national team are Asian Athletics Championship gold winner Robyn Lauren Brown (400m hurdles), John Tolentino (110m hurdles), Eric Cray (400m hurdles), Kristina Knott (100m and 200m) and William Morrison (shot put).
Brown won the 400m hurdles gold medal in the 25th Asian Athletics Championships at the Supachalasai National Stadium in Thailand last July. She clocked 57.50 seconds followed by Japan’s Eri Utsunomiya (57.73s) and Ami Yamamoto (57.80s). (PNA)