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Distracted Obiena finishes means out of vault medal

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EJ Obiena was valiant in the pole vault finals, but failed to truly mount a challenge and finishing in 11th spot. —REUTERS

TOKYO—With one leap left to rescue his Tokyo Olympics stint, the last thing EJ Obiena needed was a distraction.

Unfortunately he got one when he needed it the least.

Obiena failed to hurdle the 5.80-meter qualifying mark and finished out of the medal in men’s pole vault at Olympic Stadium on Thursday, rounding out a day when the Philippines chalked a silver officially in the medal tally and kept one gold hunt alive in men’s boxing.

Obiena nearly cleared the mark on his first two tries, tagging the bar on descent both times to necessitate a do-or-die vault. He eased off on his first approach, and that’s when issues with the clock cropped up.

Obiena was pointing at the clock at the chief timer before hurriedly trying to complete his third attempt. He did not even make a takeoff and was red-flagged, but Obiena approached the officials’ table to clarify a few things.

After about five minutes, the officials saw the validity of his argument and allowed him to redo his third vault.

With his focus already jarred by the interruption, the 25-year-old Obiena flubbed the attempt, and lay on the landing pad for a few seconds before walking off his first Olympic stint. He finished 11th among 14 finalists.

Incidentally, Thiago Braz of Brazil settled for the bronze medal this time with an effort of 5.87 meters—Obiena’s personal best.

Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis, the clear cut favorite coming into the finals, won the gold after clearing 6.02 meters, with the United States’ Chris Nilsen settling for the silver in 5.97.

Duplantis tried to break his world record after securing the gold, but failed in three attempts at 6.19.

Meanwhile, the Games formally etched Nesthy Petecio’s name on the silver medal after the 29-year-old fighter settled for runner-up behind the milestone-carving Japanese Sena Irie.

“[The silver] means a lot to me,” Petecio said in the press conference at Kokugikan Arena where she went for the medal ceremony.

“I dedicate this fight for my family, and for my countrymen, my best friend who died, and to my coaches—especially coach Noel Velasco. I know that you’ve sacrificed a lot for this competition, that’s why I [was] emotional during this awarding. I [was] emotional because this tournament is very important not only for me, but for my country, and for my coaches.”

Irie, who effectively used the clinch to blunt Petecio’s charge in the last two rounds, became the first Japanese boxer to medal in the Olympics. Petecio also became the first silver medal winner among Filipino boxers.

The day started promisingly for the Philippines.

Carlo Paalam guaranteed another bronze medal for the country, building a big lead through two quarters that he was well ahead on points against Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan when the fight was stopped midway through the second round.

Paalam pummeled the defending Olympic and world champion in the first round and then staved off pressure applied by the Uzbek in the second to go ahead comfortably on points. A clash of heads between both pugs forced the referee to call a stoppage to the fight and Paalam was declared the winner.

“They said the fight was going to be 50-50, but I just had enough faith in myself and I listened to the coaches,” said the 23-year-old Paalam, who is assured of the bronze medal.

Paalam has the chance to upgrade that color when he competes in the semifinals against Japanese Ryomei Tanaka, who defeated Rivas Martinez of Colombia in a bout the latter seemed to control.

Tanaka was rolled out of the arena on a wheelchair due to exhaustion.

Aside from Paalam, boxer Eumir Marcial will also carry the country’s gold hopes, along with golfers Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagndanganan. INQ

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