I’VE always assumed that when it comes to the Olympics, we’ll never be a contender in track and field so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a Filipino is now one of the top 10 pole vaulters in the world and is being projected to be an Olympic gold medalist.
But there’s one major problem. A familiar one. Lack of funding.
In his Go for Gold column for the Philippine Star, James Michael Lafferty touted the potential of EJ Obenia, who won the gold in the Asian Championships for pole vault recently. That victory got him to the top 10 in the world at No. 7 which allows him to compete in the Diamond League, the prized event of the International Amateur Athletics Federation.
However, to continue competing at an elite level to get to Tokyo, Obenia needs to train with an elite coach and needs P223,189 a month. It may sound big but that’s actually a bare-bones budget according to Lafferty as it is less than 3,900 Euros a month and has Obenia sleeping in couches.
What is more interesting is what Lafferty learned when he talked with the coach of the current Olympic gold medalist Thiago Silva. He holds the Olympic record of 6.03 meters but according to his coach, Silva’s biggest threat is Obenia.
“My biggest worry is this young stud Obiena. If he ever gets support, he will be unstoppable. I worry if he gets the backing he needs, he will own the gold medal for the next several Olympics,” Thiago’s coach told Lafferty.
Gold medalist for the next several Olympics. That’s how big the potential the coach sees in Obenia.
Unfortunately, the rest of the country doesn’t see it that way.
But I hope that changes. Soon.
The Olympics is still 14 months away and I hope there is time to get this young man the funding that he needs. If that P223,189 is bare bones according to Lafferty, I hope the Philippine Sports Commission can allocate twice that at say P500,000 per month. Yes, we have the money for it. Heck, if we paid a personal swing coach close to P400,000 a month out of the PSC coffers we can surely give this promising Olympian more than that? He has to concentrate on training and competing, not on where to get his next meal, so a barebones budget won’t be of much help.
Of course, giving him that much also shows we value and appreciate his efforts and that may give him an extra confidence boost when he competes against the world’s best.