How to mishandle a potential Olympic medalist

By January 9, 2022General Admission

By Al S. Mendoza


THIS is the story of Philip Ella Juico.

No, he’s not history. Very much around.

Popoy to his friends, Philip is presently the president of the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa).

That means he wields power.

No less than 50 or so athletes nationwide—from runners to high jumpers, from marathoners to pole vaulters—are under his wings.

They bow to him like slaves do to kings.

But one of them, EJ Obiena, dared to challenge Popoy’s kingship.

EJ, just 26 years old, was forced to disengage from the seventy-ish Popoy’s grip.

That’s because Popoy had put EJ to shame.  How?

Popoy publicly accused EJ of stealing money intended for EJ’s coach, the Ukrainian Vitaly Petrov.

You see, EJ is a pole vaulter of world-class caliber.

He was the only Asian to enter the Final 12 of the last Olympics in Tokyo 2020.

Although he placed a lowly 11th, it was not entirely EJ’s fault.

A run-in with a table official before he was to vault destroyed his focus.

But weeks after the Tokyo Games, EJ more than redeemed himself.

The UST (University of Sto. Tomas) star placed third in an elite event in Austria won no less by the Olympic champion Duplantis.

EJ’s jump of 5.93 broke the Asian record.

By the end of 2021, EJ, the pride and joy of Tondo, Manila, was No. 6 in the world—the only Filipino, and Asian for that matter, to have achieved that mark.

So consistent he was in the European league that EJ, training for years in Fornia, Italy, where he remains based, was ranked No. 3 in the 2021 European circuit.

That’s an unprecedented feat no Asian has ever achieved.

But was his sterling performance ever given due recognition?

Alas, not at all.

Worst, he was vilified by Popoy as a thief.

Popoy was off-key—literally.

Petrov’s salaries were never stolen at all.

Turns out EJ was simply delayed in paying Petrov’s salaries.

Understandable.  EJ is both paymaster and pole vaulter all at the same time.

Which is at once a mockery of Patafa’s organizational set-up.

Since when did an athlete double as an accountant while in pursuit of his athletic career—as in EJ’s case?

Only in the Philippines.  Again?

And even as EJ had proven he has settled all of Petrov’s salaries through three tranches done in Europe, Popoy remained unconvinced.

He ignored EJ’s defense:  “Since when is late payment a crime.”

For his belligerence, Popoy was declared persona non grata (unwelcome person) by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), which came to EJ’s defense.

In response, Popoy promised to charge EJ with estafa, adding he will also accuse EJ’s mother, Jeanette (a Patafa employee), of misappropriation of funds worth P624,116.76.

Popoy has actually gone ballistic as he said he will also sue Petrov in the World Athletics for “unethical conduct” while calling James Lafferty, EJ’s adviser, a persona non grata.

With his unprecedented hostile actions against his own ward (EJ), Popoy has made himself the best example of how not to lead a national sports association.

He has completely forgotten: Athletes bring Olympic medals to the nation—never the leaders.

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