Dream come true: EJ Obiena caps off stellar year with SEA Games gold

Beatrice Go
Dream come true: EJ Obiena caps off stellar year with SEA Games gold

Josh Albelda

'It's like a telenovela. I couldn't have written it better. Things have been going really bad and in my home country, I finally win the gold,' says EJ Obiena

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine pole vault star EJ Obiena has been breaking barriers the entire 2019, but nothing is sweeter than the elusive 2019 Southeast Asian Games gold to seal his golden year. 

“It’s more of just a dream come true,” said Obiena, who cleared the height of 5.45 meters to set a new SEA Games record.

“I’ve been working hard for this and I [felt] really shameful back in 2017 when I wasn’t able to represent Philippines,” he added.

“But at the same time, what I learned is that that made me who I am now, so I just keep doing it. And finally it showed. It showed how I dominated the competition and finally, in front of the home crowd, I was able to get the gold.”



Since his debut in the regional biennial meet in 2013, Obiena has set his sights on the gold, but always seemed to miss the top spot when it mattered. 

In 2015, the 24-year-old athletics star was seeded No. 1, but fell to Thailand’s Porranot Purahong, who set the games record of 5.30m then. 

His lowest point came in 2017 when he tore his ACL a day before his departure for the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games. The injury sidelined him from competition for almost a year.

However, the total opposite dawned upon Obiena during the 2019 SEA Games as he ended the competition as the lone athlete in contention for the gold in front of the raucous crowd of New Clark City. 

“To be honest, it’s like a telenovela. I couldn’t have written it better. Things have been going really bad and in my home country, I finally win the gold,” said Obiena, who now turns his focus to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

‘It’s for the Filipinos’

Obiena’s SEA Games gold was a breakthrough mint for the family of pole vaulters as his father Emerson Obiena only mustered runner-up finishes in the 1993 Singapore SEA Games and 1999 Brunei Games.

But for the country’s current top pole vaulter, the gold is also for the Filipino community that supported him throughout the years. 

“To be honest, it’s not just for my family, but it’s for the Filipino people. As I said, I [felt] really bad in 2017 and that was the biggest pressure here,” said Obiena. 

When he finally secured the gold, the SEA Games record just became a bonus.

“To show up and to get that gold, whatever the height is. To just get back, to all the people who have been supporting me, they’ve been there and they’ve been always like: ‘Oh, we’re going to get the gold’, ‘This year, we’re going to get the gold’, and I failed to do it. So I just want to give it to them, finally,” added Obiena. 



Obiena had high expectations for himself as he surpassed his own record twice in April and July this year before becoming the first Filipino to make the Olympic cut and setting a new Philippine record of 5.81m in Chiari, Italy. 

Before making his debut in the quadriennial sports event, Obiena will see action in the Asian Indoor Athletics Championship in February and the World Indoor Athletics Championship in March. – Rappler.com 

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Beatrice Go

More commonly known as Bee, Beatrice Go is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Philippine sports governance, national teams, football, and the UAAP. Stay tuned for her news and features on Philippine sports and videos like the Rappler Athlete’s Corner and Rappler Sports Timeout.