Overcoming COVID and Odds: EJ Obiena Clinches Silver at World Athletics Championships, Challenges World No. 1 Duplantis

EJ Obiena World Athletics Championships
Filipino Ernest John Obiena snagged the Silver at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest while putting World No. 1 Mondo Duplantis of Sweden to the test. WAC photos.

Asian sensation Ernest John “EJ” Obiena of the Philippines soared through the air under the skies of Budapest, Hungary, and claimed his podium spot in front of thousands of spectators gathered to witness the unfolding of sports history at the 2023 World Athletics Championships.

The 27-year-old Obiena, hailing from the bustling streets of Tondo, Manila, defied gravity and sent an electrifying jolt through the National Athletic Centre on August 26 (August 27 Philippine Time) as he claimed the Silver medal in Men’s Pole Vault – delivering the anticipated historic back-to-back medal for the Filipino nation.

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Soaring to New Heights

The arena reverberated with applause, while Filipinos worldwide, eyes glued to their screens, exhaled collectively. Obiena, standing at an imposing 1.88 meters, launched himself over the bar at a breathtaking height of 6.00 meters. The crowd went wild as if propelled by his leap.

Sharing the podium right next to Sweden’s reigning champion, Armand “Mondo” Duplantis, Obiena etched his name into history. Duplantis secured gold with a 6.10m leap, but not without feeling the heat from his Filipino competitor who had already beaten him last year at the Brussels Diamond League and more recently outshone the World No. 1 with a silver finish at the Monaco Diamond League.

Setting Records and Breaking Ceilings

Obiena didn’t just win a silver medal; he established a World Area Record and repeated the Herculean feat that made him the first Asian and Filipino to join the Elite Pole Vault 6-Metre Club. “And for EJ to do that [clear 6.00m], especially on the first attempt puts a lot of pressure on you. You’ve got to really go out there and get it done. I’m glad I was able to do it,” Duplantis candidly admitted in an Olympics report.

The Asian sensation wasn’t content with just one victory. Obiena’s ascent began with clearing 5.55m in a single attempt, progressing through 5.75m and 5.85m in double attempts, and gliding over 5.90m and 5.95m. Then came the silver-winning 6.00m jump, which he accomplished in two tries. He even aimed higher, attempting 6.05m and 6.10m, underlining his inexhaustible hunger for greatness while putting the pressure on Duplantis.

More than a Medal

The 27-year-old’s meteoric rise reflects a remarkable improvement from his bronze medal finish at last year’s World meet in Oregon, which was itself a first-ever medal for the Philippines. Now, Obiena holds the distinction of claiming the only two medals ever won by the Philippines in this elite competition of athletic titans.

EJ Obiena now has 11 medals in as many events he competed in the current pole vault outdoor season.

Overcoming COVID-19 Battle

In a heartfelt Facebook video, the Filipino pole vault sensation gave fans a glimpse into the struggles he faced leading up to his stellar performance at the World Athletics Championships. “Life is like a rose,” Obiena began, painting a vivid picture of the highs and lows that shape our experiences.

Only two weeks prior to challenging world No. 1 Mondo Duplantis and securing his silver medal, Obiena faced one of those ‘thorny’ challenges—he was diagnosed with COVID-19. The virus significantly interrupted his training regimen, throwing a wrench into his preparation plans.

“I was sick with Covid, I lost almost two weeks of heavy training, and I started to question why I got the thorns,” Obiena wrote. In a video he filmed during that difficult period, the athlete expressed the emotional toll the diagnosis had taken on him.

But like a true champion, Obiena refused to let adversity keep him down. “Thankfully I snapped out of it. I refused to be the victim. I accepted the rose, thorns and all! And decided to take matters into my own hands,” he continued. Obiena even suggested that the experience might have given him an unexpected edge, stating, “It’s strange to contemplate, but perhaps I would never have silver-medalled without the thorns of covid and being sick.”

In his reflections, Obiena reminds us all that life’s thorns are essential to appreciating its beauty, likening them to the challenges we all face. “Thorns toughen you up. Thorns make you appreciate the beauty of the rose,” he concluded, inviting everyone to keep fighting despite life’s hurdles.

This tale of resilience adds another layer to Obiena’s remarkable silver-medal achievement, making it not just a win for him, but a symbol of triumph over adversity.

WATCH EJ’s video here:

The Road to Paris 2024

This spectacular feat is more than a record; it’s a springboard propelling Obiena toward the 2024 Paris Olympics. There, he aims to topple Duplantis from his throne, echoing his shocking 2022 victory over the Swede at the Brussels Diamond League meet.

From the narrow alleys of Tondo to the world stage, Ernest John Obiena has become an epitome of dedication, resilience, and unyielding will. As Filipinos around the globe celebrate his triumph, the sky is not the limit; it’s just the beginning.

So, mark your calendars for Paris 2024. Ernest John “EJ” Obiena is coming, not just to compete but to conquer.

SHARE EJ Obiena’s incredible journey with your friends and family to uplift their spirits and showcase what the Filipino spirit is truly capable of achieving!

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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.