EJ Obiena still top Asian pole vaulter, stays on track for 1st Olympics gold

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EJ Obiena First Gold Olympics
EJ Obiena announced his return to the tracks after the lockdown. Screengrab from EJ Obiena YouTube video.

Ernest John “EJ” Obiena is staying on track on the campaign for the first Philippine gold in the Olympics as the top Asian pole vaulter in the World Athletics Rankings.

EJ Obiena became the 1st Filipino to rank in the Top 10 of World Pole Vault Rankings in September 2019 after his gold-winning performance at the Salto Con L’asta In Piazza Chiari in Italy. The same event had Obiena clinching the Olympic Standard of 5.8 meters jump, to make him the first Filipino to qualify for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo originally scheduled this year.

The Olympics has since been rescheduled to 2021 following the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus disease which put a halt to mass gatherings including sporting events.

The Philippines’ champion athlete is currently ranked #16 in the latest March 2020 World Rankings, still the top Asian in the list ahead of China and Japan.

The 6-foot-2 pole vault athlete from the University of Santo Tomas has been based in Formia, Italy as a member of Team Philippines but had to temporarily halt training while the European country underwent lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus disease.

EJ Obiena announced going back to training on May 4, 2020, after two months of the lockdown and with a better and positive mindset.

The Filipino champion pole vaulter went live on social media on Monday as the first Elite Athlete to be presented in the video press conference series of the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA).

In the video call with PATAFA and sportswriters on May 25, 2020, Obiena revealed how he at first “felt lost” after hearing about the postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics.

“Just lost. Ligaw, kumbaga. Biglang nawalan ng direction. You put the chariot in front of the horse. The horse will run to the chariots. He doesn’t know where he is going. My mind is on that. I was aiming for the Olympics, I need to do everything that I can. When IOC announced that, I was like what now. I’m like, what am I going to do. I’m lost,” Obiena recalls his reaction.

Obiena credits his Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov for bringing him back to the mindset that the postponement would actually work for him.

“We had that talk and he said ‘You are an athlete. It doesn’t matter if the competition is going to be today, tomorrow, or next year. Each day you train.’ And I accepted that” shared Obiena.

The 24-year-old Obiena now sees the rescheduling as giving him more time to improve his jumps. “I have more time to prepare. I have more time to be ready. It’s a thing that I should look forward to and not think that the Tokyo Olympics isn’t going to happen. I’m still qualified. I’m still going to the 2021 Olympics. I’m going to be there. Might as well use this time to be ready and prepare,” he said.

The Filipino champion athlete said his aim in training is to consistently deliver the Olympic Standard of 5.8 meters. He said he also believes he can jump 6 meters once he consistently competes at that level.

EJ Obiena is now looking towards competing at the first leg of the International Amateur Athletics Federation-hosted World Outdoor Track and Field Competitions scheduled for August 14 in Monaco.

SEND CHEERS in the comments below to EJ Obiena for being a source of Filipino pride as the top Asian pole vaulter on a quest for the 1st Olympics gold for the Philippines.

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Aurora Quadra-Balibay
Angie is a self-confessed reformed news critic who vows she has finally found infinite value in delivering the good news. She teaches students of all ages how to make the important interesting for audiences across media platforms.