October 2, 2023
MANILA – After a record-shattering gold medal performance that somehow lifted the spirits of the deflated Philippine contingent in Hangzhou, China, EJ Obiena will have the rest of the year to take it easy before taking the deep plunge in chasing the title that matters most.
The one that will take the 27-year-old Filipino to athletics immortality.
“It has been an amazing year for me and I’m very proud of it,” Obiena said, moments after clearing 5.90 meters (m) in the pole vault finals Saturday night at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium that gave Team PH its first gold medal in these Games.
It was an expected win for the Tondo native. And a well-deserved respite is up next after what has been a season full of grind.
“I’m turning it off for a moment to enjoy the (rest of the) year,’’ said Obiena after resetting the Asian Games record.
But people needed to ask him about Paris 2024.
“I don’t want to think about it yet,’’ said the world No. 2 after also retaining the continental title he won in the Asian Championships close to three months ago in Bangkok, Thailand. He also tried to clear 6.02 meters to reset the regional standard he also owns, but failed.
The Italy-based Obiena also won a silver in the World Athletic Championships in Budapest, Hungary in August and another second-place landing in the Diamond League finals in Eugene, Oregon last month.
On both occasions, Obiena checked in second to world champion and record-holder Armand “Mondo’’ Duplantis of Sweden, who will still undoubtedly be his biggest target in the glitzy fashion capital in less than a year.
But for now, it’s time for the country to enjoy this win, which was long in coming after several high-profile Filipino bets fell by the wayside one by one.
“I’m very happy that he pulled through. I can imagine the pressure on EJ because of all the expectations,” said beaming Philippine athletics chief Terry Capistrano. “(Winning) has become his mindset every tournament he joins and that’s very good.
“(We will) let him rest for now and then after Christmas, we can start thinking of Paris.”
China’s Huang Bokai and Saudi Arabia’s Hussain Al Hizam checked in second and third, respectively after both hurdled 5.65 meters and the Chinese winning via a countback.
“He’s (Obiena) a superstar. Just happy to compete with him,’’ said Al Hizam, who trains with Obiena under renowned Ukranian coach Vitaly Petrov in Formia, Italy along with Huang.
“EJ is my best friend. We’ve been training together since 2019,’’ added Huang.
Long drought snapped
Obiena’s gold also quenched the country’s thirst for a first medal in the Asiad after long jumper Elma Muros bagged a bronze in the 1994 Hiroshima edition.
It likewise ended nearly four decades of waiting for that prized gold when the late great sprinter Lydia De Vega won the 100m in 1986 in Seoul, South Korea.
Also becoming a member of the elite six meters club in June during the Sparebanken Vest Bergen Jump Challenge in Norway, Obiena is actually the first Filipino to qualify for the Paris Summer Games after meeting the Olympic standard of 5.82m at the Bauhaus Galan in Stockholm, Sweden.
Apart from these milestones, the Tokyo Olympian was a consistent medalist in almost all of the tournaments he participated in at the indoor and outdoor European circuit. He also won the Southeast Asian Games gold in Cambodia last May.
After the Christmas break, Obiena will start going through the motions of implementing the training plan prepared by Petrov on his way to the Olympics, where the most significant piece of hardware can bring him unrivaled acclaim in Philippine athletics. INQ