Godspeed, EJ Obiena!

As a Filipino sports fan almost inured to sporting heartbreak, I’m still at a high from last weekend’s world titles from gymnast Carlos Yulo and amateur boxer Nesthy Petecio (special mention goes to out to Azkals for drawing against China at the recent FIFA World Cup qualifiers). Yulo and Petecio, by virtue of their respective titles, join pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena as the Philippines’ first qualifiers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Although I’m ecstatic at our country’s gymnastics and amateur boxing milestones, EJ’s achievement is a lot closer to this ex-sprint hurdlers’ once-athletics crazy heart.


EJ Obiena at the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships (Photo Credit: Wikipedia/Athletics Federation of India

The Obienas have long since been a fixture in the tight-knit local athletics community. EJ’s mother, Jeanette is a former sprinter and hurdler, and is currently involved in track & field officiating and organization. Coach Emerson, himself a former pole vault athlete and a multiple SEA Games medallist, still competes in masters-level athletics events. In the years that I’ve spent as a track athlete (and the two years or so attempting an ill-fated comeback) throughout the Oughts, I’ve often admired this track & field family for their collective love and determination for the sport.

Looking back at my own humble track career, I point to that particularly humid evening in Rizal Memorial back in 2004 as the pivotal moment when I realized how much I loved athletics. That year’s edition of the old Track & Field National Open (they call it by a different name now, I think) was at its latter legs. The Men’s Pole Vault was being bitterly contested by two Thais and the lone Filipino standing, Coach Emer. The two Thais had personal bests of around 4.70 – 4.80m and were ranked at the top of the event back then (track geeks, correct me if I’m wrong!). In the dimly-lit environs of Rizal, watching Coach Emer (then almost in his forties, I think) valiantly compete against the best of the region solidified my commitment to be the best sprint hurdler I can possible be – to be as good as Coach Emer in the pole vault and earn the right to compete with our country’s name proudly emblazoned across my running vest.

Fast forward seven years later to the 2011 edition of the National Games. I was struggling to balance the demands of a full-time job with an athletics comeback. For months in the lead-up to what turned out was my sputtering swan song of a race, the Obienas, the rest of the Philippine Pole Vault Club, and Mr. Hwa Liong took me in as one of their own. Throughout those four days in Bacolod, I saw first-hand how much the sport is ingrained in the identity of the Obienas. As a student of athletics, I relished the constant conversation about track & field. It was eat, sleep, breathe athletics – in a nurturing family setting at that.

But I retired from the sport soon after, disillusioned at the lack of facilities and the worsening Manila traffic. The Obienas, EJ in particular, soldiered on. Even if I’ve long since hung up my spikes, I kept tabs on the local track scene’s developments thanks to social media. From the first time EJ broke Ed Lasquete’s former national record of 5.00m, his first Asian title, his breakthrough Diamond League appearance, and his qualification to the Tokyo Olympics I’ve cheered EJ from afar and drew in inspiration from his many struggles and his well-deserved success.

EJ’s sporting feats are indeed awe-inspiring but not surprising considering the athletics-centered and nurturing familial atmosphere that he grew up in.

Ranked 10th in the world, EJ has a legitimate shot at the Olympic podium. He lives and trains with the best and knows his major competitors from the inside out. The pole vault is perhaps the most technical of all athletics events. Here lies its unpredictability (think Rens Blom at the rainy 2005 Helsinki Olympics).

The last Filipinos to win Olympic medals in athletics were the great Simeon Toribio (1932 Los Angeles, Bronze, High Jump) and Miguel White (1936 Berlin, Bronze, 400m hurdles). The younger Obiena is perhaps our best hope for Olympic track & field glory since Marestella Torres and Elma Muros-Posadas.

Godspeed, EJ! And Fly High!

Follow EJ on social media: @soon_ej

Running (2017)

Running, especially in the past few years, has been a solitary activity. It’s the perfect time to organize your thoughts for the day ahead (when you workout in the morning) or to reflect on the day that was (if you prefer training at night). Certain circumstances at work have caused me to abandon my routine of morning runs at the CBD in favor of evening workouts at the good ole University campus. On weekends (when I’m not hungover), early afternoon runs are the norm.

For the first time in recent memory, I’m doing nearly all my running at a place where I learned the ropes of the sport that changed my life. One cannot help but wax nostalgic at such a realization.

There has been (literally) tons of changes, with the multitude of new buildings that have sprouted the last decade. There are hardly any familiar faces anymore. Most of the students are strangers – wide-eyed and tinged with the idealism of youth.  Fr. Masterson Drive, with its long straights that I find ideal every time I switch into high gear, is a lot brighter at night, thanks to the new LED streetlight overhead. Even the very pavement that I run on has seen a revival of sorts, as the spartan concrete sidewalk of my youth gave way to brick-lined paths.


Maybe it’s because of all the years I spent down the Hill, but I find the drivers around the campus a lot friendlier towards pedestrians and runners alike compared to my student days. This is certainly a welcome surprise.

I am greeted with the familiar at every turn. Years spent running circles (squares and rectangles, actually) has ingrained the nuances of my well-trodden running route. I know just about when to speed up or coast to enjoy the scenery. With each landmark that I pass, a certain fondness for bygone times comes forth.

When you’re at the wrong side of thirty, the illusions of immortality and boundless youth so vivid at twenty have taken a turn towards reality. Like good ole Father Nebres, I could probably keep on running well into my eighties or switch to triathlon or golf like some of my friends. But I digress.

For now, I am pretty much content with staying fit and keeping fast.


It’s been ten friggin’ years since I graduated from University. My priorities were a whole lot different back then.  Life consisted of juggling track and academics. Everything was moving smoothly midway into senior year – I was running the sprint hurdles faster than ever and getting decent enough grades. I was ready to make one last shot at athletics glory then leave everything behind to join the so-called real world. But things hit a snag. The proverbial shit hit the fan. I broke my left arm in a freak hurdling accident a month before my final college race.

I was broken, literally and figuratively, but eventually found my bearings. My career had to take back seat for another year or so. I went back to the drawing board and talked to my coach and my parents about using my last year of eligibility to compete for one final time . There were no garlands or medals of gold at the end of my college track days. I left the track at a dismal, ignominious fourth place and in tears. It took me half a decade (and a couple of ill-fated attempts at a comeback) to finally move on.

Time really gives oneself a good perspective of things. There are no regrets at this stage in my life, only good memories. But if I could go back in time and have the opportunity to give out some wise words to my 22-year old self, I’d advise the guy to cut back on the rumination – to suck it up, look at the bright side of life, and to stop whining.  I’ve often pondered at how the best years of my life came in my early twenties. Now that the dust of regret has settled for good, I can honestly say that is most certainly not the case.

Pointers to My 20-Year Old Self

Ten years ago today, I was in the hospital recovering from a broken arm sustained in a freak hurdling accident. Despite harboring delusions of competing again in barely two months’ time (Think Mark Crear at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Although I’m fairly certain that my arm injury was far more horrid than his, with all due respect to the Sub-13 sprint hurdler, of course), my season was practically over.

Barely a couple of weeks from my 21st birthday, I was in tip-top shape, running over those hurdles fluidly and without hesitation. Then that fateful moment happened. I was in tatters. As a senior in college, this was my last shot at that elusive 110m hurdles gold.

Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. What was once a matter of great importance seems so much more trivial nowadays – after a decade’s worth of experiences. I am still a work progress (aren’t we all?) Although I have little regrets with the decisions I’ve made in the past, I sure as hell have some tips to offer my 2006 self should I miraculously get hold of a DeLorean or a Hot Tub Time Machine (I prefer the former).

Cut back on the fast food

Dude, your body is your temple. If you eat junk, you will perform like junk. Ditch the fast food and chips for some veggie and fruits!

Drink a little more booze

Bro, there’s little use trying to live like an ascetic here. Even elite Olympians have vices. I’m not telling you to party every week, just learn how to let loose once in a while to polish those social skills (you’ll thank me for this somewhere down the road).

Go out with your teammates more often

You’ll never find a more diverse bunch of folks as the track team. Case in point: co-educational training. Again, go out. Take time to get to know these diverse collection of characters. Get drunk (even during the season. but don’t overdo it, silly!). A little alcohol won’t kill you.

Ask that girl out for coffee

You have to stay calm and not overt think. Take a deep breath, like the ones you take before each hurdling rep. Borrow some money from your folks and muster the courage to say your piece. Keep it friggin’ simple. I’ll even feed you the lines (check your phone).

Try not to brood too much after a bad race

Yeah, I know. Losing is never fun. But don’t let that crappy feeling consume your very person. It’s okay to mope, but don’t let it go beyond a couple of days. Fall seven times, stand up eight, remember?

Polish your sprinting mechanics

I’ll be honest with you. You sprint like crap. You can’t rely on hurdling form alone to win races. Keep this in mind: you only clear hurdles 10 times in a race while sprinting approximately 48 strides.

Pay extra attention to the A-skip and butt-kick drills. Your legs should be flexible enough for the heels to touch that slow-ass of yours when you sprint.

Save some money to start your stock portfolio 

Take up dad’s offer on that part-time job (although heaven knows how you’ll manage to juggle it with school and training).  Or swallow your pride and borrow some dough (payable when you start working). Read up on the fundamentals of the financial markets. And for heaven’s sake, please PLEASE please pay attention in your Money & Banking class.

There is life after athletics

I know how badly you want to win the UAAP gold, but we have to stay true to ourselves here. You probably aren’t good enough to run professional track. Your current PB of 15.65s is an eternity from the Olympic “B” standard (you’re a sensible guy, I’m sure you’ve realized this fact years before). Again, don’t let this goal consume you.

There are far bigger things in life than running over ten, 1.067-meter high barriers at full speed.

My Top Six Underdog Sports Movies

Everyone loves a good underdog story, especially  in the world of sports. Although we celebrate feats of athletic domination (e.g. The Dream Team’s romp towards the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Gold, Manny Pacquiao’s various world titles in eight weight divisions, and Roger Federer’s 17 grand slam singles titles), unexpected triumphs elicit a more endearing emotional response.

Being a movie buff and a sports nut for around half my life, here’s a list of the sports movies I’ve enjoyed the most:

Wimbledon (2004)

Let’s be honest with each other here. I’m quite certain that every sports-minded fellow out there has felt some sort of superhuman boost in performance because of that thing called love. This movie takes the concept even further – much further at that, considering the stakes.


The Karate Kid (1984)

Who would’ve thought that waxing the car, painting the fence, and sanding the floor could instill martial arts fundamentals?


Rocky I (and Rocky III and Rocky IV)

No sports movie list is complete without Rocky. This is the granddaddy of all underdog sport movies, with its iconic training montages, barely-coherent Stallone slurs, and gory fictional fights-to-the-finish.


The Replacements (2000)

This is about getting an unexpected second shot at sporting glory – and making it count. Definitely my favorite Keanu Reeves film.


Miracle (2004)

I haven’t seen a live ice hockey game my entire life, but the sheer impact of one of the greatest upsets in sporting history resonates despite the differences in seasons. This is a classic David and Goliath story… on ice.


Rudy (1993)

This is, without a doubt, my favorite sports film of all-time. Sean Astin was fantastic in his portrayal of the headstrong protagonist. Jerry Goldsmith’s musical score made the movie even more memorable.


My Top Eight Running Songs of 2016

The past year have seen a resurgence in my passion for fitness. Watching my good friend compete at a triathlon event last September roused the dormant performance demon within me. Since then, I’ve religiously trained six to eight times a week, designing a loose training program around a couple of basketball leagues.

Since I almost always train solo, music is a necessity I cannot live without. No matter how intrinsically-driven one is, one can use a little musical inspiration.

Talking Heads – This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

This song is perfect for warming-up or at the early stages of a run. It’s slow enough to keep the speed demon inside you at bay, but perky enough (with its eclectic new wave/post-funk twang) to put a spring on your step.

Santana – Evil Ways

I absolutely love how Greg Rolie’s vocals perfectly blends with Carlos Santana’s hypnotic guitar playing in this track. It certainly helps in setting an even pace. The guitar solo at the end is usually my queue to raise the tempo several notches higher.

Justice – Phantom Pt. II (Boys Noize Unreleased Turbine Mix)

Don’t you dare listen to the Justice original. The Boys Noize Turbine mix is a lot more fun to listen to because of all the bells and whistles (quite literally). If this track doesn’t get your juices flowing, I don’t know what will.

Disclosure – Help Me Lose My Mind

Unless you’re the Energizer Bunny, there comes a point in our daily runs when we turn down the throttle. I usually do this midway as I conserve my strength for the final push at the latter stages. Pay attention to Hannah Reid’s vocals on this one.

Eminem feat. Gwen Stefani – Kings Never Die

Remember that iconic Eminem hit from 8 Mile? Kings Never Die is its spiritual successor.  P.S. Watch Southpaw too!

Chvrches – Under The Tide

I’m a big, big fan of this Scottish synthpop outfit. It feels like I’m cruising on a sleek speedboat every time I listen to this.

The National – About Today

The home stretch is where I expend all my remaining energy stores into one last burst of speed towards the (imaginary) finish line. It’s about pushing oneself against taking the easy way out. “About Today” was featured at that intense final scene of the MMA film Warrior (2011).

M83 – Wait

 I’ll be lying if I say that TFIOS didn’t introduce me to the best M83 song ever.

It’s a bit slow in building up but once the songs shifts into high gear, expect a fireworks display of drums and synth.


Thoughts on Van Niekerk’s World Record

Back when I was new to the sport in the early oughts, I started out with the quarter-mile. Even if I eventually shifted focus to the sprint hurdles in the subsequent years, I maintained a keen sense of interest in the 400m dash – and Michael Johnson’s legendary 43.18s world record in Sevilla set in 1999.

Although this a stretched comparison, Michael Johnson was my Usain Bolt. Johnson’s then world records in the 200m and the 400m were the stuff of athletics lore, clockings that elite athletes back in my day could only dream about.

Then a guy named Wayde van Niekerk stole the show in Rio and decimated a loaded field, running roughshod over one of the most revered sprinting records in recent history.

Having been away from the sport the past four years, my knowledge of track & field current events is at all-time low. So I did a quick Google check on the South African speedster and my jaw literally dropped when I stumbled upon an article about Van Niekerk’s unrivaled sub-10, sub-20, and sub-44 clockings in the 100m, 200m, and 400m dashes.

From the outermost lane, Van Niekerk ran like a rocket when the starting gun fired. While Kirani James, the defending Olympic champion, and LaShawn Merritt were battling it out in the middle lanes, the South African blazed around the other seven athletes in a much faster orbit. There was no catching the speedster from down under. That scintillating final saw the top three dip below 44-seconds for the first time in Olympic history.

Michael Johnson’s reaction to Van Niekerk’s record-breaking feat says it all: “Oh my God! From lane eight, a world record. He took it out so quick. I have never seen anything from 200 to 400 like that. That was a massacre from Wayde van Niekerk. He just put those guys away.”

Enough said.

Invisible Finish Lines

It was drizzling at that far-flung beach up north. I had the entire swathe of coastline to myself, with barely a soul  in the surroundings. The solitude was invigorating. The contrast between the salt-tinged air and the pure tasteless rain clears the mind. Unaccustomed to running on  sandy beaches, my calves were aching from the brief trot from the hotel. I gazed at the gray horizon, painted by an even darker hue by brooding rain squalls.  After a few moments spent warming-up, I looked around for a perfect spot to start sprinting.

Sprinting, when done right, brings forth a sensation close to flying. Contrary to common belief, one cannot just run with reckless abandon, with nary a thought on the proper mechanics. A well-trained speedster runs almost erect, the arms and legs pumping vigorously like four, well-oiled pistons in an engine. The true sprinter is relaxed yet intense,  as he or she channels almost every drop of energy into a single-minded goal of reaching the finish line as fast as humanly possible.

I put my right foot ahead of the left as I stood on that makeshift, beach front starting line. There were no crowds at the stands or competitors at the adjacent lanes. There were no clocks to beat, records to be broken, or medals to be won. I was by my lonesome at that quiet stretch of La Union shoreline, listening to the sound of the surf eternally pounding the shore. I crouched, cocking my knees as I take measured breaths. Pushing off with my right leg, I began the sprint, running low as I built up speed. My arms exaggeratedly swung at the sides to keep balance as my shins traversed almost parallel to the ground.

Gradually, I ascended. My focus shifted from the sand below me to the finish drawing increasingly near. As my knees punch the air, my stride goes into full swing. With each step my feet pummel the sand, throwing up grayish black powders in my wake. For the final act, I lean towards the unseen finish line – the invisible tape – to stop the omniscient clock a little quicker. I let my stride gradually shorten as I decelerate, gently throttling down my body which only moments ago hurtled across the beach with childlike glee.  Slowing down to a walk, I made an about face and retraced my steps from finish to start.

I repeated the same sequence to my heart’s content, until the longing for speed was satisfied.

Old Habits Die Hard

Old habits die hard, Mick Jagger once said. It has been half a decade since my last sprint hurdles race and I find myself still doing a watered-down iteration of a track & field program, albeit with a focus on middle-distance running and bodily aesthetics. Aside from the two months spent each year taking part in a weekend alumni basketball tournament, I’m pretty much a lone wolf doing criss-crossing through forests of long runs, interval runs, sprints, plyometrics, and weight training.

Back in the day, the prospect of bringing honor to the school kept me going. I ran for the pride, honor, and bragging rights of my beloved track team. I competed for myself because I loved winning and proving that I was faster than the seven other guys in my heat (which rarely happened, but that’s beside the point).

All these pretensions of fighting for something bigger than oneself seem trivial in hindsight. Even more so the vainglorious attempts at winning sprint hurdling gold.

The pace of modern-day city life can be hectic, and at times, disconcerting. Life itself is complicated by an increasingly interconnected world. Hence, I appreciate the part of my day where I can just let loose and disconnect.

When I run (or lift or sprint, for that matter), purpose is broken down to its bare essentials. For instance, running entails getting from Point A to Point B in the shortest possible time. Weight training requires the successful completion of a lift in the most efficient way possible. The gadgets I carry, an old-fashioned Casio watch and a 2nd generation iPod shuffle, are spartan by today’s standards.

Since I train almost always solo, I can go for hours without uttering a single word. My trusty music player gently pipes in old rock songs, modern electro-pop (and yes, the occasional love song) into my ears. The pace of my runs and the intensity of my workouts are dictated by the songs I listen to. Maintaining a leisurely 3k pace? Play Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” Doing multiple 100m sprints at 85% effort? I fast forward to Churches “Under the Tide.” Pumping myself up for a new PR in the dead lift? Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” might just give an added strength boost.

The routine, at first glance, might seem monotonous. But then again, I find the relative solitude of these physical pursuits comforting. True enough, no medals are won or finisher’s shirts are given at the end of these races against myself. However, one becomes fabulously fit, mentally-upbeat, and a little more self-aware as consequence of these physical exertions.

Four Years Later

It has been almost four years since I last ran over full-sized, 1.067-meter high hurdles. In the run-up to that fateful day, I felt the frustration building up. I was way behind my training program for the 2012 National Games. Despite the best of my efforts, I could not seem to get my hurdling rhythm going. The crowded conditions of the only public synthetic track in Manila exacerbated this rut I was in. I actually felt somewhat in shape doing my warm-up that night. But lo and behold, my bearings were all off. Although my eight-stride starting approach was decent enough, I couldn’t seem to run the three-step pattern in between those barriers. For a sprint hurdler, losing touch of this almost biblical hurdling commandment is a no-no.

I tried to muster every motivational trick in my decades-long hurdling playbook but none of those seemed to work. After my third (or fourth?) attempt I decided to call it a night. My vainglorious quest to juggle work and sport had come to an abrupt, unassuming end.

It took months before my muddled self got over the disappointment. Except for a two-year layover after college, I had been running track since 2000. Needless to say, it took much introspection to get over that sudden jolt. Luckily, I was never that good to begin with. There were no titles to defend or sponsorships to cancel.

I never did stop doing sports in the succeeding years, but my interest in writing about the sporting world became the last of my priorities; hence, the reason for this blog’s long dormancy.

I have absolutely no plans to write about the current state of the sport with all these embarrassing drug controversies. I also won’t be churning out new versions of that particular weekly feature. More importantly, I have no plans of staging a second comeback now that I’m way past quarter life. But then again, I’ve always loved reading about history. Maybe, just maybe, I can rekindle that old fascination on athletics’ storied tradition and write something that could be vaguely relevant.

Weidenfeller and Kehl

While browsing the history of the German Men’s National Football Team, I came across a section about Philipp Lahm not wanting to relinquish the captain’s armband to Michael Ballack. This happened amidst the 2010 World Cup competition, when the long-time Die Mannschaft captain, Ballack, was unable to play because of an injury.

Still reeling from Borussia Dortmund’s tragic UEFA Champions League exit, the aforesaid squabble came into mind when I saw Dortmund’s Roman Weidenfeller beckon to Sebastian Kehl to come up front. Kehl refused the goalkeeper’s offer of the captain’s armband as the beaten finalists made their way up the stadium to get their second place medals. Kehl is captain of The Black Yellows but was an unused substitute in the final.

Weidenfeller’s attitude towards Kehl could not have been more different to Lahm’s treatment of Ballack.  It’s refreshing to see such gestures of magnanimity still prevalent, even at the highest levels of sport.

By Joboy Quintos

“Miguel White (1909 – 1942): Olympic 400m Hurdles Bronze Medalist” by Joboy Quintos

I was a nineteen year-old college sophomore when I first read about Miguel White. Despite the best of my efforts, I was stuck in a rut, unable to go below sixteen seconds in the 110 high’s and qualify for the finals. I spent a considerable amount of time poring over athletics books, to further my knowledge of the sport and to get a much-needed dose of inspiration amidst those troubled times.

I came across a mildewed book about Filipino sporting legends. The Philippines had won a handful of medals in the Olympic Games, a couple of those by track & field athletes. I was awestruck. It turned out that Philippine sports, athletics in particular, had a storied past. I found the exploits of Simeon Toribio and White more interesting than rampant politicking often featured in contemporary sports pages.

There were more material written about Toribio, who eventually became a lawyer and a congressman after his athletics days. Miguel White’s story, however, was shrouded in mystery. White had an American father and a Filipina mother. He competed for the Philippines at the Berlin Olympics, winning the 400m low hurdles bronze. He could have performed with equal distinction at the 110m, but fell in the qualifying heats, unable to finish. Unlike Toribio, who lived until he was sixty-four, White died during the Second World War.

In the past few years, I tried in vain to look for clips of White’s Olympic medal winning effort. Photos were just as scarce. A few days earlier, I stumbled upon a treasure trove Olympic programs (from the 1896 Athens Olympics all the way to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games).

White, Hardin and Loaring on the podium. A proud moment for the Philippines! (Photo from the 1936 Berlin Olympics Program/LA84 Foundation)

Lo and behold, there were photos of Miguel White, as well as the results of the qualifying heats. The Olympic program even included descriptions of the race conditions and the lane placements. For the athletics nerd that I am, these were priceless!

White went up against a quality field, among them Glenn Hardin of the United States, the world record holder at 50.6s. The Filipino topped the third heat in qualifying, stopping the clock in 53.4s, ahead of the eventual silver medalist, John Loaring (54.3s) of Canada. The American also qualified with ease, submitting a time five-tenths slower than White’s.

Miguel White from the Philippine Islands was the fastest hurdler in qualifying. In this day and age where Filipino athletes are hard-pressed to meet the Olympic “B” standard, reading about this was surreal! In the semi-finals, White (53.4s) finished behind Hardin (53.2s) in the first heat, securing a spot in the finals.

The first bend. Hardin and White are at the outermost lanes. (Photo from the 1936 Berlin Olympics Program/LA84 Foundation)

The world record holder stamped his class on the rest of the field. At the last hurdle, Hardin was a full stride from Loaring and White, who were locked in a tight battle for second place. The Canadian (52.7s) edged out White (52.8s) by a tenth of second.

Miguel White had emulated Simeon Toribio’s high jump bronze from  the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.

A good shot of the final flight of hurdles. Hardin leads, with Loaring and White battling it out for the silver. (Photo from the 1936 Berlin Olympics Program/LA84 Foundation)

It is quite unfortunate that the Olympic feats of Toribio and White have been practically forgotten. Philippine sports may be in the doldrums, but perhaps looking back at our golden past might inspire a new generation of Filipino athletes.

Results (screenshots from the 1936 Berlin Olympics Program/LA84 Foundation):

1.) First Round:



The Victors:

Article by Joboy Quintos


1936 Berlin Olympics Program (from the LA84 Foundation website)

The “Last King of Straddle:” Vladimir Yaschenko (Владимир Ильич Ященко Володимир Ященко) by Joboy Quintos

The high jump, aside from the hurdles of course, is one of my favorite athletics events. Although I have no jumping background at all, I appreciate the event as a student of the sport. I take pleasure in watching an athlete gracefully soar over the bar – rejoice at each successful clearance or wince at each missed try.

In the weeks leading to UAAP 2010, I stumbled upon clips of Soviet high jump legend Vladimir (Volodomir) Yashchenko (Владимир Ильич Ященко Володимир Ященко). I was two years removed from my last hurdles race at that time. Although I had dreams and daydreams about athletics, a return to the sport was nothing but far-flung longings.

Those historic clips of the Last King of Straddle did much to get me back into a track and field mindset. Growing up in a time where the Fosbury Flop rules supreme, seeing the lanky yet powerful Yashchenko clear heights near 2.40m evoked feelings of wide-eyed awe. Perhaps it was the similarity of the technique to hurdling that piqued my interest, or my soft-spot for nostalgic images of a bygone age. The straddle is a forgotten technique. Long before the Dick Fosbury revolutionized the event in 1968, various techniques of the straddle were utilized.

Yashchenko was the last straddler to hold a world record. As a junior, he broke Dwight Stones’ world mark in a dual meet between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Two years later at age 20, the lanky Ukrainian flew to 2.35m to rewrite his own all-time mark. A tragic knee injury prematurely ended Yashchenko’s jumping days months later. In the subsequent years, the champion succumbed to alcoholism and depression. In 1999, Yashchenko died in penury at age 40.

Read Giorgio Reineri’s article on Yaschenko here

A year since I made the momentous decision to return to the sport I love, I can say in all honesty that I changed for the better. Even if my chances of making the 2012 London Olympics or at least going below the 14-second barrier are minutely small, it feels great to be back.

Yashchenko’s inspiring albeit tragic story was the catalyst. It made me realize that life – especially an athlete’s competitive days – is much too short to dwell upon past mistakes.

Article by Joboy Quintos


IAAF article of Yaschenko

“Freaks of Nature: Usain Bolt and Michael Johnson” by Joboy Quintos

In the sprints, an athlete aims to reach the finish line as fast as possible. Hence, he/she limits the time amount of time on the ground by being explosive. From the track literature I’ve read throughout the years, I’ve learned that stride frequency is genetic, while stride length can be improved through hard work. A sprinter can do as much explosive drills, plyometrics and Olympic lifts as humanly possible, but one’s stride frequency and explosiveness is limited by nature’s genetic endowment of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Stride length and stride frequency are the major pillars of sprinting. A sprinter strives to achieve a balance between the two. To perfect the sprinting form, an athlete goes through a cacophony of running drills to master each facet of the deceptively simple picture-perfect sprinting form:

  1. Back erect
  2. Shoulders relaxed
  3. Jaw relaxed
  4. Arms pumping below eye level
  5. Hands relaxed, not tensed
  6. Knees pumping high like pistons
  7. The heel not going beyond one’s butt
  8. Toes dorsi-flexed

Among the elite sprinters, I like respective forms of 9-time Olympic Gold medalist Carl Lewis, 2007 Osaka 100m/200m World Champion Tyson Gay and 4-time Olympic Silver medalist Frankie Fredericks the best.

Among all the sprinters of the orthodox school, Usain Bolt epitomizes the synergy of stride frequency and stride length the best. At 6’5 (1.95m), Bolt is the tallest elite sprinter to date (Although the retired German 400m specialist Ingo Schultz is taller at 2.05m, his major achievement pale in comparison to Bolt!).  Naturally, Bolt has longer legs and longer strides than most other sprinters at the world level. His height does not prove a hindrance, however, as he seems to possess a degree of explosiveness more than sufficient to outclass his shorter competitors.

Bolt seems to have ample endowments of BOTH stride length and stride frequency, despite the apparent instability of his upper body relative to other sprinters – a minor aberration to this purveyor of speed!

At 1.85m (6’1), Michael Johnson is not as physically impressive as Bolt. Pound per pound, however, Johnson is more impressive than Bolt with the former’s erstwhile 200m world record of 19.32s and current 400m WR of 43.18s. His arched back, low knee lift and short strides defies textbook sprinting form.

Johnson relies on sheer explosiveness, leg power alone and out-of-this-world speed endurance, in light of his relatively shorter strides.

Usain Bolt may be the current toast of the athletics world (despite his recent loss to Gay). Bolt has single-handedly lifted the sport on his Zeus-like back. He is every inch the sport’s premiere icon, with his stellar 100m and 200m world records. But then again, there will come a time when someone just as tall and fast as Bolt, would emulate his feats.

The chances of another maverick who epitomizes Johnson’s sprinting style is even more remote.

Simply put, if there’s a index which rates one’s ranking in the freak of nature scale, Johnson ranks higher than Bolt in my book. But on the showmanship index? Bolt is up there along with likes of Shaq!


Check out MJ’s reaction to Usain’s world record! This is priceless.

Article by Joboy Quintos

Photo credits:


“Simeon Toribio (1905-1969): A World-Class High Jumper” by Joboy Quintos

It has been eighty-years since Simeon Toribio won the high jump bronze medal from the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Ask any Filipino about Toribio and chances are, you’ll be met with a blank stare. I know for a fact that athletics in the Philippines is nothing more than a fringe sport. The days of Lydia de Vega are long gone. And despite the best efforts of our national athletes, the sport is hard pressed to break into mainstream consciousness.

Perhaps a look back into our storied athletics history could bring back a sense of pride, and lift our collective desensitation from decades of being sporting minnows.

I first read about the exploits of Toribio and Miguel White back in college, through the fine book entitled “Philippine Sporting Greats.” White, winner of the 400m hurdles bronze in Berlin, died during the Japanese invasion at the early stages of the Second World War. The Bohol-born Toribio, fortunately, survived that terrible episode and lived well into his sixties.

Toribio was a renaissance man in every sense of the word. In my readings of Jorge Afable’s “Philippine Sports Greats”, I was amazed at how he balanced a full-time job with a no non-sense athletics training regimen.[1] In his heyday, the tall Toribio reigned supreme in Asian high jumping circles. In a thirteen year period spanning from 1921 to 1934,[2] the Filipino champion won a staggering five gold medals in Far Eastern Games, the precursor to today’s Asian Games.

The Filipino made his Olympic debut in Antwerp back in 1928.[3] Bob King won gold with a superior mark of 1.94m.[4] The next four jumpers, Toribio included, had identical jumps of 1.91m.[5] However, Toribio missed out on the bronze in the ensuing jump-off.[6]

He reached the pinnacle of his career in Los Angeles, where he sailed over 1.97m to win bronze. The 1932 Summer Olympics was the Philippines’ most successful foray into the World’s Greatest Show, with three bronze medals. Teofilo Yldefonso snared his second Olympic third place finish in as many attempts, while boxer Jose Villanueva grabbed the bronze medal in the bantamweight division.

The high jump competition in Los Angeles was a long drawn battle, taking four hours according to Afable. With the top four jumpers all tied with clearances of 1.97m, another jump-off was held to determine the placings.[7] The competitors all failed to clear 2.007m and 1.99m.[8] The gold was awarded to Canada’s Daniel McNaughton, who had a first-time clearance over 1.97m, [9] while Bob Van Osdel of the United States took the silver.

Toribio at the 1936 Los Angeles Olympics. (Photo from the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics Program/LA84 Foundation)

Afable wrote about a peculiar competition rule from that era that required athletes to stay at the competition grounds during the entire event, and opined that had Toribio not been burdened by the “call of nature,” he could have cleared 2.007m.[10] Coming into the Games, the Filipino had a personal best of 2.00m set in 1930. Perhaps because of discomfort, the then 26-year old Toribio took three attempts[11] to negotiate 1.94m and 1.97m – heights well within his capabilities.

A helpful Japanese coach lent a blanket for Toribio to cover himself in as he relieved his bladder!

The world record at that time was at 2.03m, with the Olympic record at 1.98m.

McNaughton, Toribio, and Van Osdel. (Photo from the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics Program/LA84 Foundation)

Toribio competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, his third Olympiad, but finished outside the medals. During the War, he narrowly escaped arrest by the Kempeitai when a Japanese officer saw one of Toribio’s mementoes from an athletics competition in Japan (If my memory serves me right, it was a memento from the 1923 Far Eastern Games in Osaka. I’d have to verify this by reading “Philippine Sports Greats” again).[12] Since it was the Japanese emperor’s birthday, the Kempeitai officer spared Toribio.[13]

The Filipino high jumper went on to become a congressman in his native Bohol, serving his constituents for 12 years.

Eighty-two years since Simeon Toribio set his 2.00m personal best, the Philippine high jump record has improved by a mere 17cm. Nowadays, it is a rarity to see a Filipino athlete qualify for an outright Olympics slot, much less make it to the top eight. It is sad to note that in local collegiate- and national-level track & field meetings today, a 2.00m clearance is still deemed competitive.

Curing the ills of Philippine athletics will be a hard fought struggle. Let us remember – and honor – our past heroes, and draw inspiration from their world-beating feats.
Article by Joboy Quintos

  1. Afable, Jorge (1972). “Philippine Sports Greats.”
  2. “Simeon Toribio.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simeon_Toribio. Retrieved 8-19-2012.
  3. Afable 1972.
  4. “Athletics at the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games: Men’s High Jump.” http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/summer/1932/ATH/mens-high-jump.html. Retrieved 8-19-2012.
  5. “Simeon Toribio.”
  6. “Athletics at the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games: Men’s High Jump.”
  7. “Athletics at the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games: Men’s High Jump.”
  8. “Athletics at the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games: Men’s High Jump.”
  9. “Athletics at the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games: Men’s High Jump.”
  10. Afable 1972.
  11. “Simeon Toribio.” http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/athletes/to/simeon-toribio-1.html. Retrieved 8-19-2012.
  12. Afable 1972.
  13. Afable 1972.
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