TOKYO OLYMPICS QUALIFIER.  A file photo of Filipino pole vaulter Ernest John "EJ" Obiena after winning the gold medal in the 2019 Summer Universiade in Napoli, Italy last July. Obiena won again in a tournament in Chiara, Italy on Tuesday night (Sept. 3, 2019) after clearing the 5.81 meters to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Photo courtesy of Napoli Universiade)

MANILA -- Pole vaulter Ernest John "EJ" Obiena became the first Filipino to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after surpassing the 5.80-meter qualifying standard in an athletics meet in Chiara, Italy on Tuesday night.

 Obiena, a 6-foot-1 Asian Athletics Championships reigning champion, successfully cleared the 5.81 meters on his third and last attempt to beat five opponents for the gold medal in the tournament sanctioned by International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF).

The 23-year-old son of former pole vault great Emerson Obiena then tried but failed to eclipse the 5.9 meters Asian record.

Nevertheless, Obiena broke his own national record of 5.76 meters which he set during the 2019 Summer Universiade also in Italy last July.

 When he called up Obiena shortly after his victory, Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) president Philip Ella Juico said the newest Filipino Olympian told him: "Perhaps due to the adrenalin, I felt as if I were floating in the air as I let go of the pole and went over the bar.”

 "It is PATAFA’s honor to have the first Tokyo Olympics qualifier come from its ranks. EJ’s feat comes at a time when the Philippines faces various daunting challenges in the international front, including the 30th Southeast Asian Games and this should inspire other athletes,” Juico said in a statement on Wednesday.

 “It took EJ five years of intense and dedicated training, countless international competitions, the most modern coaching techniques and support from the Philippine Sports Commission, Ayala Corp, private individuals and most recently, the Management Association of the Philippines, to help EJ get to where he is now and where he is headed,” he added.

 By earning an Olympics slot through the qualifying standard, Obiena avoided the perilous route of qualifying based on ranking.

 Qualifying according to rank essentially calls for athletes earning slots based on their world ranking a few months before the Olympics.

 With hundreds of athletes competing for the limited spots in the Olympics, qualifying through rankings, the system used in many sports without any qualifying standard, would mean a long wait almost up the last minute for the final rankings.

Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) chairman Steve Hontiveros and 2020 Tokyo Olympics chef de mission and Philippine Football Federation president, Mariano Araneta, have confirmed that indeed Obiena was the first Filipino athlete to qualify to the Tokyo sports festival. (PNA)