MANILA, Philippines – When pole vaulter EJ Obiena secured his maiden Olympics berth, he wasn't aware that he was actually the first Filipino to qualify for the biggest quadrennial sporting event.
"When I jumped 5.81, I didn't know. I knew I'm in, but I didn't know I'm the first Filipino [to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics]," admitted Obiena.
"That just changed my world. I take pride in that, and I hope I can reach their expectations as well. It's a little bit of pressure, but that's what I do, that's what I like. That feeling that I need to do something."
Obiena reset his own Philippine record in the men's pole vault for the third time this year last September in Chiari, Italy when he cleared 5.81m and surpassed the Olympic standard of 5.80m.
Weeks later, another Filipino secured a slot in Tokyo as gymnast Carlos Yulo reached the Olympic qualifyiing mark at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
"My goal is Tokyo. I'm not hiding that," said the 24-year-old Obiena, who's ramping up his Olympic bid with Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman William Ramirez also pledging financial support.
But before the Olympics, Obiena will compete in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games where he hopes to win it all especially after missing the 2017 edition due to an ACL injury right before his flight to Kuala Lumpur. (Back to zero: EJ Obiena gears up for pole vault comeback)
"For SEA Games... the preparation will be a little bit shorter," said Obiena, whose training for the regional meet will be compressed to less than two months from his usual four-month regimen.
"It's a little bit off calendar, not my fault. It's part of my job, part of being an athlete, to perform when you need to.
"So what I can do is prepare as much as I can, but at the same time, [I'm] looking forward to Tokyo, which is the Olympics, which is the biggest competition there is."
The Olympics-bound Filipino will be competing against Thai star Patsapong Amsam-Ang, who won the bronze in the 2018 Asian Games.
Even if Obiena went home without a medal in last year's Asiad, he believes he now has the advantage over his rival.
"I say right now I do [have the advantage] because I have a better personal record, I've jumped higher this season than him. But, it's competition. You never know."
Obiena will see action in the 2019 SEA Games athletics tournament on December 6 to 10 at the New Clark City athletics stadium in Capas, Tarlac. – Rappler.com
More commonly known as “Bee”, Beatrice is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Phillippine 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.