Shoulders of giants

For all the controversy he generated in his run-in with the Philippine Track and Field Association (Patafa), pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena certainly made up for all of that with one swift stroke.

The world-class athlete fondly called EJ has pledged to donate his incentives from the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) to the ailing Lydia de Vega who has been battling breast cancer and is in very critical condition.

The Filipino pole vaulter, who has lately been ranked a career-best World No. 3, stands to receive P250,000 incentive for breaking the Asian record on the way to a bronze medal in the recent World Athletics Championship in Oregon.

His advisor and nutritionist, James and Carol Lafferty, respectively, pledged to match Obiena’s donation for a total of half a million pesos that should help support the medical expenses of the legendary track star.

Obiena’s gesture, without really trying to, has turned him from goat to hero.

He has previously gotten embroiled in a controversy with his mother association after Patafa put him under probe for allegedly falsifying his liquidations pertaining to payments made to his coach Vitaly Petrov.

The row was the meat of all sports headlines for some time after the two sides refused to buckle down and resolve the issue.

Two letters from Patafa addressed to Obiena were reportedly leaked to select media outlets. In the letters, Obiena was told to return 85,000 euros (P4.8 million) to Patafa and that funding for his training in Formia, Italy would be suspended until the investigation into the financial issue was resolved.

Obiena said he addressed the issue immediately, sending proof of payments and screenshots of his messages with Vitaly to Patafa. The embattled Olympic pole vaulter said he finds it “weird” that the issue of late payments to his coach, Vitaly Petrov, was “somehow leaked” to the media after he tried to settle it internally.

Patafa, on the other hand, claimed that it only acted in reaction to the supposed letter signed by Petrov and World Athletics senior vice president Sergey Bubka.

The accusations went back and forth and a resolution seemed nowhere in sight even as netizens criticized Obiena for his belligerence to his mother association. The issue even reached the Senate as some lawmakers chimed in on the controversy. It also reached the point where Obiena threatened to retire if the issue remained unresolved.

Following the Senate hearing, the two sides eventually agreed to settle their differences through a mediation facilitated by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).

In the end, both parties agreed to a settlement and the proceedings ended successfully, according to PSC chairperson William Ramirez.

Patafa had agreed to endorse Obiena to the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam in May and the World Outdoor Athletics in Oregon, United States in July.

Both parties had also agreed the endorsement for Obiena’s participation in future competitions “will be subject to the usual rules and regulations of the Patafa, as observed for the participation of all national athletes.”

With his name cleared and reputation kept intact, the young pole vaulter has decided to take things a bit further. On his flight back to Italy after the Oregon sojourn, it occurred to him that despite his own training needs, the incentive he’s going to receive for his bronze medal feat would serve Lydia de Vega better.

While pledging his donation, Obiena paid tribute to the legends of Philippine athletics who paved the way for the younger generation like him with their success.

“I am here today because I am standing on the shoulders of giants. I thank them for the route they have forged. I owe them a debt of gratitude,” Obiena said.

The legendary Lydia de Vega was the country’s leading participant in the inaugural World Athletics Championships in 1983.

“I am deeply saddened by the news of Ma’am Lydia’s health issues, and the pleas of her family for financial assistance for the mounting medical bills,” Obiena said. “We hope this makes a difference. God bless you and give you strength.”

He ended his post with a hashtag, #LabanLydia.

E-mail: mannyangeles27

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