MANILA, Philippines – EJ Obiena’s Ukrainian coach Vitaliy Petrov hit back at the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association’s (PATAFA) decision to drop him as a national coach, revealing that the national federation “never asked” how to develop the Filipino pole vault star.
“From the 7 years of work that I have done with EJ, I have never heard PATAFA or Mr. Philip Juico ask me what they can do to help me develop EJ,” wrote Petrov in a statement posted on his Facebook page.
“I am a coach who [has] trained and prepared multiple World Champions, Olympic Champions/Record holder and 30 world records under my 57 years of coaching Pole Vault. Never have I been scorned by any federation of any nation that I have worked with. Now PATAFA and Mr. Philip Juico who has never done anything to help me, drops me as a coach and remove my athlete that has a great future in this sport.
“If this Federation is dropping a world-class athlete instead of helping; drops his coach who [has] trained him to be one of the best pole vaulters; brands a sport patron persona non grata who [has] done nothing but helped bring this Filipino boy to where he is now, then I ask what is this federation doing?”
Petrov reiterated that “money was never an issue” and he had full belief in the potential of Obiena. Under the mentorship of Petrov, Obiena shattered national records and set the current Asian record of 5.93m.
“Money has never been an issue. There are even times where I spend my own money, like paying for a gymnastics coach to help EJ improve. Coaching is my passion and developing athletes like EJ to reach their maximum potential is my motivation,” continued Petrov.
“I coach EJ day in and out because of my passion and genuine care for this young Filipino boy. Truth be told, I call him ‘my boy’ all the time as I see my athletes as my own family like my own sons and daughters.”
Petrov, who trained 2016 Rio Olympics gold medalist Thiago Braz of Brazil together with Obiena, remained firm in his passion for coaching, noting he knows what kind of support Obiena needs to continue improving, and that his ward doesn’t need any more burdens and distractions.
“I understand what it takes to build a world-class pole vaulter as I am blessed to have done it multiple times in my coaching career. It takes a lot of time, knowledge, effort, talent, resources and a bit of luck,” said Petrov.
“In my humble view I have helped a young boy from a country that didn’t have the history or the resources to create a world-class pole vaulter. Now that EJ is finally a top 5 pole vaulter in the world, his own Federation President, Philip Ella Juico kicks him out of the team for nothing. In my opinion athletes should only be thinking about their training and performance everything else is additional burden and distraction that they don’t need.”
Obiena reposted Petrov’s statement with an apology for the mess, but recalled a moment where the Ukrainian great believed in him after his dismal performance at the 2018 Asian Games.
“The call started with me hearing his frustration and anger but suddenly he switched, he calmed down and told me 5 words I will never forget ‘I am waiting for you’,” wrote Obiena.
“I wept like a little boy. I don’t know why a coach who has won it all and has all the options in the world would still want me, a guy with a broken leg. Long story short I went back and fought for my place and here we are.”
PATAFA cut off funding for Obiena’s training after the national federation investigated on his liquidation and late payments of Petrov’s salary. In the internal investigation, PATAFA recommended to drop Obiena from the national team and terminated Petrov’s contract.
Obiena currently ranks No. 5 in the world and was the only Asian in the Tokyo Olympics pole vault finals where he finished 11th overall.