Quest for gold: For EJ Obiena, pressure is a privilege

Quest for gold: For EJ Obiena, pressure is a privilege
World No.2 pole vaulter Ernest John "EJ" Obiena —PHOTOS COURTESY OF ERNESTOBIENAPV INSTAGRAM

All eyes are on pole vaulter EJ Obiena as the Philippines makes its bid to capture the ever-elusive gold medal in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

It’s no secret that much is expected of Obiena in his upcoming campaign. He’s the second-highest ranked pole vaulter in the world, after all, and he knows there’s a ton of pressure on his shoulders to deliver.

But after having a career-defining year in 2023 that saw Obiena rule the Perche en Or in Roubaix, France and the Orlen Cup in Lodz, Poland, pressure no longer fazes the Tondo, Manila native. He, in fact, welcomes it.

“I’ve been saying this for quite some time, but pressure is a privilege,” said the 28-year-old athlete. “Being in a situation where there’s something expected from you… that means you’ve shown that you are capable of doing something historic—something worthwhile.”

Inspiration from Diaz-Naranjo

On the topic of making history, Hidilyn Diaz-Naranjo shattered barriers when she captured the country’s first and only gold medal in the Olympics in Tokyo.

Obiena soars over the bar.

Obiena believes this moment of inspiration in Philippine sports will continue to have its ripple effects—not only on his own campaign in Paris but with the entire Philippine delegation as well.

“I called it two years ago. I said there’s gonna be more Filipinos in Paris after what Ate Hidilyn has done in Tokyo. She definitely showed a whole country, a whole nation that the Filipinos can win medals in the Olympics,” Obiena said of Diaz-Naranjo’s monumental achievement.

“And with that, it creates an effect and a wave of people that believe in themselves to be able to compete,” he furthered. “And I think that’s priceless.”

That, coupled with his compatriots’ unwavering support, fueled Obiena’s desire to remain steadfast on his mission.

“Anytime you wear the Philippine flag, you know, there’s a different energy into it because you’re not just representing yourself. You’re representing a hundred and ten million all over the world. And I think with that, it comes with responsibility and morale boost,” said the second-generation athlete.

“I know there’s a hundred and ten million Filipinos who want to see me win and with that, you have enough motivation to make sure that you perform at your best.”

Redemption in Paris

Ready to take flight

Obiena did not exactly have a stellar performance in his Olympics debut in Tokyo. He finished 11th in the 2021 edition of the Summer Games, while his archrival Armand Duplantis took the shiniest medal available.

In this year’s go-round, Duplantis will inevitably serve as the final boss in Obiena’s quest once more. The Swedish-American pole vault currently holds the sport’s world record with 6.23 meters. On the other hand, the pride of the Philippines boasts a personal best of six meters, the Asian record.

The 0.23 meters that separates both vaulters may not seem much—about the length of a standard letter paper. But in a game of inches like pole vaulting, it could spell the difference between victory and defeat.

The Filipino athlete with coach Vitaly Petrov

Obiena, though, doesn’t seem bothered. “It’s pole vault,” said the product of the University of Santo Tomas.

“I just have to make sure I’m in the best shape of my life, make sure I make him jump another bar. So yeah, I’m gonna keep pushing and at the end of the day it’s a competition.”

Duplantis may be his primary target, but the Pinoy athletics star isn’t looking past the other competitors either.

“I think that everybody on the field knows that everybody is capable of winning,” stated Obiena. “So for me, the strategy is to prepare the best that I can and make sure that I have the best chance, whatever it is, coming into the games.”

No doubt, Obiena soared to new heights by dominating competitions left and right leading into the grandest stage in sports. As impressive as World No. 2 is, however, Obiena isn’t settling for anything less than reaching the proverbial mountaintop.

“Of course, my goal is to win gold,” declared Obiena. “There’s nothing short of that. I set out to compete and every competition I set out to, that’s all I wanna do. I know it’s a tough competition, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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