Pole vault ace EJ Obiena climbed onto the podium and accepted his gold medal as the Philippine flag fluttered proudly to the bliss of teary-eyed Filipinos present during the momentous occasion.
Athletics chief Philip Ella Juico has been projecting this moving visual of the coming Tokyo Olympics in his mind over and over, hoping that the elusive dream will morph into reality when the time comes.
“I saw an image of EJ receiving the gold medal during the awarding ceremony while the Philippine flag goes up and the people teary eyed about this,’’ said Juico during the Philippine Sportswriters Association forum on Tuesday.
The president of the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association has set out that triumphant outcome as Obiena’s objective in the COVID-19 delayed Olympics together with the possible podium performances for sprinter Kristina Knott and hurdler Eric Cray.
“Our target for EJ is a podium finish, preferably gold, but we don’t want to put pressure on him,’’ said Juico in the weekly forum backed by Smart, Go For Gold, Pagcor, Milo, Braska and San Miguel Corporation.
“For KK (Knot) and Cray, the target is to get to the finals and from there anything can happen,’’ added the former chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission.
So far, Obiena, the Inquirer’s male athlete of the year, is on the right path.
Despite the challenges of traveling in Europe, Obiena recently reset his own national record by clearing 5.86 meters in a silver-medal performance during the Orlen Indoor Cup at Atlas Arena in Lodz, Poland.
Just a week ago, the Asian champ and second-generation pole vaulter erased his previous mark with a gold-winning 5.80 jump in the ISTAF Indoor Athletics Meet in Berlin, Germany.
Obiena earlier captured a gold medal in a meet in Dortmund this month, making it three in less than two weeks.
The 24-year-old Southeast Asian Games gold medalist will again plunge into action at the Copernicus Cup in Torun, Poland on Thursday.
Apart from Obiena, Juico is also banking on Knot, the women’s 200m SEAG record-holder and gold medalist, and four-time SEAG men’s 400m hurdles champion Eric Cray to secure spots in the Olympics before the qualifying deadline at the end of June.
Juico said shot put specialist William Morrison would just focus on defending his gold medal in the coming SEA Games in Hanoi, Vietnam instead of trying his luck in the Olympic qualifiers while women’s pole vault SEAG champion Natalie Uy is on track to full recovery from a right-hand injury.
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