EJ Obiena

Leaping to the next level: EJ Obiena returns home to rest, refocus on Olympic bid

Philip Matel

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Leaping to the next level: EJ Obiena returns home to rest, refocus on Olympic bid

ICON. EJ Obiena says he owes it to legends like Lydia de Vega who paved the way for him.

Aleksandra Szmigiel

After spending three years abroad, pole vault star EJ Obiena hopes to enjoy his brief Manila break before starting a yearlong drive to the Paris Olympics

MANILA, Philippines – Returning to where it all began is a welcome respite for EJ Obiena before the Filipino pole vault star kicks off his arduous bid of claiming a podium spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

After all, he said, the best version of “Obiena the athlete” equates to “Obiena the person.”

“It begins with rest, right now,” Obiena told reporters hours after his arrival in Manila from Italy on Thursday, September 15.

“I think this is gonna be my last unwinding, really – zone out and step away from that day-to-day, mundane, nomadic system that I need to live, from probably October until August 2024.”

Obiena arrived after three years abroad, proudly displaying the fruits of his labor, including the bronze medal from the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon last July where he reset the Asian record with a 5.94-meter performance. He also became the first Filipino to make it to the podium of the world meet.

The 26-year-old star also had an impressive streak the past weeks, winning six medals out of his eight competitions to cap his 2022 season.

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The world’s third-ranked male vaulter visited the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex on Thursday for a courtesy call to PSC chairman Noli Eala.

It was also in this historic Manila sports venue where Obiena’s father Emerson, an established pole vaulter himself, showed EJ the ropes during his formative years.

Eala said he invited Obiena to introduce novel ways in training for the development of grassroot athletes.

The new PSC chief also said they had a handshake deal to prevent a repeat of Obiena’s off-the-field issues – a very public spat with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) that started late last year over liquidation documents.

Obiena and former PATAFA president Philip Ella Juico eventually underwent mediation courtesy of the PSC to settle the dispute. Obiena also later received clearance from the Commission on Audit.

After his three-week break in the country, Obiena will head again to Formia, Italy to continue training under the tutelage of legendary coach Vitaly Petrov. He had been training in the facility since 2014 before permanently residing there since 2019.

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In a schedule still being deliberated by his coaches, Obiena said he’s set to participate next year in the Asian Indoor Athletics Championships in Kazakshtan; Asian Athletics Championships in Thailand; Asian Games in China; Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia, and the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

“We have a bunch of competitions that we want to do,” said Obiena, noting that they’re also waiting for the calendar from World Athletics. 

“Of course, that would boost my ranking and my chances going to bigger meets… we’re looking at which competitions Mondo [Duplantis] is going to do and go toe-to-toe and sharpen that skill,” said Obiena of the word No. 1 pole vaulter. 

“It’s not ideal for me to [compete in back-to-back tournaments]… I’m not going to be doing this much competition at such a short time next year, because it’s not ideal for my body or preparation, but this is a test for me next year for the major championships.” 

Achieving a clearance of 6.0 meters is also on the horizon for Obiena, and he’s adamant that consistency can help him leap to a better mark.

“Jumping 5.94 takes a lot on my body and I cannot do it unfortunately, day by day,” said Obiena.

“The consistency is there. If you jump and start higher, the risk is higher.” – Rappler.com

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