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MANILA, Philippines – No other Filipino deserved to receive the Athlete of the Year award from the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) more than pole vault star EJ Obiena.
Obiena earned the highest individual honor from the Philippines’ oldest media organization during the PSA Awards Nights on Monday, January 29, following a banner year that has put him in medal conversation for the Paris Olympics.
On a mission not just to bring honor to the country but also inspire the next generation, Obiena – who appeared virtually at the Diamond Hotel as he remains in Italy for training – said the award means he is on the right path.
“I stand here, truly humbled by this award, arguably the most prestigious award any Filipino athlete can get, an award I’ve dreamed way back in 2017, my first PSA [Awards] Night,” he said through a Zoom call.
“This award suggest perhaps, in some degree, I’ve been successful in the mission, not in pole vaulting, but in leveraging my craft to help shape a better Philippines, and I would say, a stronger Philippines.”
Ranked second in the world, Obiena reached greater heights last year as he became the first Asian to clear the six-meter barrier, joining an elite club composed of only 27 other pole vaulters.
The 28-year-old achieved the feat when he ruled the Bergen Jump Challenge in Norway in June as he improved his own Asian record.
In fact, Obiena did it twice last year as he recorded six meters anew to bag a historic silver in the World Athletics Championship in Hungary in August, placing behind world record holder Armand Duplantis of Sweden.
That silver reset the Philippines’ highest finish in the World Athletics Championships, a distinction Obiena also owned when he clinched bronze in the 2022 edition.
A consistent force, Obiena completed a Southeast Asian Games three-peat in Cambodia in May, retained his Asian Athletics Championships crown in Thailand in July, and won a maiden Asian Games title in China in September.
In total, Obiena won nine golds, seven silvers, and five bronzes in 2023 – an impressive haul that bodes well for his goal of challenging Duplantis and contending for the Olympic crown – or at least, a medal – in Paris this year.
“Right now, I’m trying to be stronger, faster, jump a little bit higher than last year,” said Obiena.
Obiena headlined the biggest Awards Nights in the 75-year history of the PSA, with around 140 awardees feted for their accomplishments for the past year.
Gilas Pilipinas claimed the President’s Award for clinching the Asian Games men’s basketball crown for the first time since 1962, with ace big man June Mar Fajardo named Mr. Basketball for the sixth time in the last seven years.
Sarina Bolden (Ms. Football), Alex Eala (Ms. Tennis), and Tots Carlos (Ms. Volleyball) were also recognized for their excellence in their respective sports.
Thanks to Meggie Ochoa and Annie Ramirez delivering a pair of gold medals in the Asian Games, the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of the Philippines shared the NSA of the Year honors with the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.
San Miguel Corporation chief Ramon S. Ang and MVP Group boss Manny V. Pangilinan jointly won the Executive of the Year award for teaming up to back Gilas Pilipinas and the Philippines’ hosting of the FIBA World Cup.
Also honored on Monday were gold medalists in the Southeast Asian Games, ASEAN Para Games, Asian Games, and Asian Para Games. – Rappler.com