We might have lost the next best bet for a second Olympic gold in the Paris Games in 2024.

He is EJ Obiena, who has been accused of stealing the salary of his Russian coach, Vitaly Petrov.

Obiena being branded a thief by his own association, the Patafa (Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association), is something that is out of the ordinary.

Whether true or not, the allegation has sullied the name of Obiena. The brouhaha being almost already a trial by publicity, Obiena is damaged goods—virtually.

Sorry, but we seem to see Obiena, 26, as being practically thrown under the bus. Perception is like conviction already.

Obiena is now trying his best at damage control. In a Zoom press conference, wrote the Inquirer’s June Navarro, Obiena showed a letter signed by Petrov that Petrov had received his salaries.

“All I can say—with documented evidence—that these rumors are 100 percent false and represent nothing more than character assassination,” said Obiena, who placed 11th among 12 pole vaulters in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics last July.

Patafa has ordered Obiena to return 85,000 euros (P4,849,308.50) to Patafa as salary of Petrov.

I’m curious. Why did Patafa entrust Petrov’s salary to Obiena and not to Petrov himself?

“The entire incident has damaged my reputation and is now forever part of my history,” said Obiena, who had recently crowned himself Asia’s best.

Obiena has threatened to retire from “the sport that I love.”

In Patafa’s letter dated Nov. 15 to Obiena: “Based on the written statements of Mr. Sergey Bubka and Mr. Vitaly Petrov, including the documents you have submitted to the Patafa, it appears that you falsified the liquidations submitted to the Patafa and failed to pay the coaching fees of Mr. Vitaly Petrov in the amount of Eighty-five Thousand Euros (P4,849,308.50).”

Obiena answered: “We are talking [here] of slander and defamation of character. I have retained legal counsel.”

He also said he has hired the auditing firm Price Waterhouse Coopers: “I will prove that every single centavo has been accounted for.”

Petrov started in 2014 as Obiena’s coach at 2,000 euros a month (P114,237.78).

Still, amid all the mess, Obiena sees a solution: “The only resolution to this now is the full withdrawal of the investigation and a full public apology from the authorities involved. I welcome a full and open accounting. I have nothing to hide.”

Gripping drama unfolding.