Paris Olympics

Golden boy: Who stands in the way of an EJ Obiena pole vault Olympic gold?

JR Isaga

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Golden boy: Who stands in the way of an EJ Obiena pole vault Olympic gold?
Pole vault prodigy Armand Duplantis remains EJ Obiena's lone real hurdle to a coveted Olympic gold – in a way demonstrating the Filipino star's readiness to finally seize history in Paris

Heading to the 2024 Olympics, Filipino pole vault sensation EJ Obiena has taken the sport by storm, poising himself for a historic performance in Paris this July, and quite literally, rising to be one of the best in the world.

Keyword: one of the best.

Also heading to Paris is a man who has the luxury of having no qualifiers attached to his descriptions. He is simply the best at what he does – backed up by smattering of records to his name, consistent performances, and to top it all off, an Olympic gold medal to defend against the likes of Obiena.

He is Armand “Mondo” Duplantis, the prodigious 24-year-old reigning Olympic pole vault champion, who is widely expected to defend his crown against all comers this July in Paris.

Unbeatable, untouchable

Boasting a yet-unbeatable world record of 6.24 meters (and still owning the next seven world record increments below it), the Swedish-American superstar blazed his way to Paris with no less than nine gold medal finishes, highlighted by the 2024 Xiamen Diamond League where he set his new high mark.

Still standing on a peak not even sniffed by the sport’s greatest like Sergey Bubka and Renaud Lavillenie, Duplantis is a young, hungry, and proven winner who – if all goes right in Paris – will more likely than not cruise to his second career Olympic championship.

He remains Obiena’s lone unreachable target, which in itself is already a massive accomplishment.

Adult, Male, Man
PODIUM. Gold medalist Sweden’s Armand Duplantis (second from left) celebrates after winning the World Athletics Championships final alongside (from left) silver medalist Ernest John Obiena of the Philippines and joint bronze medalists Kurtis Marschall of Australia and Christopher Nilsen of the USA.
World-class improvement

Three years removed from his Olympics debut in Tokyo, Obiena is a whole new beast this time around, heading back to the big stage for another crack at the ultimate athletic glory.

After settling for an 11th-place finish in his first Games, the 28-year-old standout has been relentless in his grind, powering through a controversial 2021 dispute with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) and winning multiple gold medals in the three seasons that passed since Tokyo.

The ultimate validation came in June 10, 2023, when the University of Santo Tomas product joined the exclusive 6-meter club upon winning the Bergen Jump Challenge in Norway, setting a new Asian record in the process.

CELEBRATE. The Philippines’ EJ Obiena in action during the men’s pole vault competition in the 19th Asian Games.

His place among the greats would then be solidified a little over a month later on July 20, when he rose as the world No. 2 pole vaulter just behind Duplantis after another string of consistent performances and top finishes.

History beckons

Despite recent setbacks, like a ninth-place finish in the World Athletics Indoor Championships and unlucky battles with broken poles, Obiena has proven multiple times over that he is as ready as can be for Paris, and that he only needs to play his game to stay in the realm of Olympic history-makers.

The competition will be stiff, yes. There are many other names to look out for, like former world No. 2 Chris Nielsen of the US, Australian star Kurtis Marschall, and American juggernauts Sam Kendricks and KC Lightfoot, but these are all men who have already fallen to Obiena amid his stratospheric rise.

READY. Filipino athletics star EJ Obiena gears up for a vault.

The men’s pole vault competition in Paris is practically a fight for silver, but to have Obiena’s name firmly in that conversation is a cause of celebration in itself.

And the cold, hard reality of all sports still remains, even for a godlike figure like Duplantis: anything is possible.

“For me, that’s why we go to the games – to win. Anything can happen when it’s time to play,” mused former pole vaulter Emerson Obiena, EJ’s father. “As long as the games haven’t happened and are not yet over, you have to have hope.”

Duplantis will remain a great barometer far beyond these next Olympics – an idol to look up to and a ghost to chase, until the day comes when he and Obiena can finally look each other eye-to-eye as equals. The greats are never satisfied, after all, but that’s a story for another day.

Right now, history still beckons in Paris, and medals – gold or otherwise – are ripe for the taking.

“Mondo is one of the greatest. He’s a league above the rest and the world record holder, but again, he’s just human,” Emerson continued. “Sometimes there are ups, sometimes downs. We cannot say what may happen in the games. I just hope we get a medal, whatever color, I’ll be happy with it.”

With the weight of the Philippines on his shoulders, can Obiena rise one more time for all his countrymen and clear the bar of their expectations? –

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