Forget about the mudslinging, a feud that has not only painted an ugly impression on warring parties but also a deep gash on what has been a fruitful relationship that produced an Olympian, an Asian record-holder, and a many-time achiever in top-level competitions. This is about a Filipino, a true-blooded athlete, who is putting the entire fracas behind to give the nation the assurance of loyalty—a word so powerful yet painful if the cases of chess grandmaster Wesley So and golf sensation Yuka Saso play in mind.
Pole vaulter EJ Obiena is as promising as Hidilyn Diaz, the Olympic champion, or a resemblance to gymnast Carlos Yulo, the world titlist in vault event. He is a national gem, resetting the Philippine record on several occasions and also putting the Asian record down his care with a height of 5.93 meters.
With his lean frame—made to work wonders on his demanding sport—Obiena shoots up like a catapult and goes head to head against the best in the field, thus making a name for himself as the No. 6 vaulter in the world and slowly building his own journey as the next Olympic success story.
But an internal mess, which could have been prevented if communication lines were kept open, almost got his wings clipped. Obiena’s own national athletics federation, PATAFA, launched a probe on an alleged fund misuse on the course of the athlete’s training in Formia, Italy with renowned Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov.
Obiena denied the reports and formed his own legal team to handle the situation. The Philippine Sports Commission entered the fray but only to mediate between the factions. The Philippine Olympic Committee, meanwhile, created an ethics body to investigate the dispute.
Finger-pointing was endless and has only caused untoward attention to Obiena, Petrov and PATAFA. Other individuals joined the squabble, but only to trigger more questions than answers.
Unlike the sad endings of So and Saso, Obiena is a different breed. He values the pride of representing the country, the joy of hearing the national anthem. If So switched allegiance to US after a thorny relationship with the local chess federation, and Saso choosing Japanese citizenship for a better future, Obiena takes blood—his origins—over fame, power or money.
It takes mental fortitude to withstand the crisis and stand up with what is right—for Obiena, that is loyalty. As the fight continues and reconciliation is nowhere to be found, a word of assurance is enough to satisfy the needs of the Filipinos for a true sports hero. Obiena is here to stay.