MANILA, Philippines – EJ Obiena let out a huge sigh of relief as he successfully defended his men’s pole vault gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam on Saturday, May 14.
It was not because of a major threat to his reign.
Not only did Obiena retain his gold, he did it in record-breaking style as he set a new SEA Games mark of 5.46 meters, shattering his own record of 5.45 meters.
His clearance was also almost half a meter higher than the runner-up, fellow Filipino Hokett delos Santos, who leapt past 5 meters for the silver.
But Obiena can finally breathe easy as he got his SEA Games job done, months after fearing he will sit out the biennial meet due to his rift with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA).
“You never know how many times I can wear this,” Obiena told TV Patrol in an interview as he pointed to his Pilipinas jersey.
“At the start of the year, I did not know if I was going to play.”
Back in March, PATAFA refused to include the world No. 6 Obiena in its list of athletes for the SEA Games despite the fact he is a sure-fire gold medalist as he set the Asian pole vault record last year.
Obiena also missed the World Athletics Indoor Championships after failing to secure the PATAFA endorsement.
Their rift stemmed from PATAFA alleging that Obiena falsified liquidation documents for the salary of his Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov – an accusation that the Olympian repeatedly denied.
Obiena and PATAFA, though, eventually reconciled through a mediation facilitated by the Philippine Sports Commissioner as he secured his SEA Games berth.
“It is bigger than honor. It is a privilege and an honor for me,” Obiena said when asked about representing the country. “I hope there is more to come.”
Up next for Obiena is the World Athletics Championships in July in Oregon, United States. – Rappler.com