SEA Games

Obiena still feels pressure, pride in defending SEA Games gold

JR Isaga
Obiena still feels pressure, pride in defending SEA Games gold

DOMINANT. EJ Obiena looks to live up to his lofty billing in the SEA Games.

Kai Pfaffenbach/REUTERS

Although already seen as a very strong SEA Games gold medal candidate, EJ Obiena won't let his guard down as the pole vault star still feels the pressure to represent the Philippines well

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino once said that EJ Obiena can win the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games gold “blindfolded” as he lamented the star pole vaulter’s previous non-inclusion to the national team roster.

However, while many fans and backers are understandably confident of the Olympian’s chances in the biennial regional meet, Obiena himself is intent on treating the SEA Games like any other competition out there.

“It’s still a medal for the country. It’s still an opportunity to represent the Philippines in a competition. Another chance, another opportunity for us to gather that medal haul, and of course I’m still the defending champion,” he said in a press conference with Summit Water on Tuesday, April 26.

“The Philippines is also defending their overall championship, there’s that too. It might not be the biggest, might not be the Olympics, but it is important. It is very crucial for me to deliver in these competitions. I’m looking forward to it, and there’s pressure for that.”

Although the 26-year-old star has been at the summit of elite competition, he had gone through a rough fall from that peak after a lengthy public spat with his own national sports federation, the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA).

That story, however, has reached its final chapter after a successful mediation between the two camps, followed by a decision from the Commission on Audit (COA) to clear Obiena of all financial liabilities to PATAFA.

Now that he can once again fully focus on his training and craft, the amiable athlete is now locked in for his SEA Games title defense in Hanoi, Vietnam starting May 12, and use that experience as preparation for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“I think it’s a shame if I’m raising the flag in the opening ceremonies, and I lose, right? There’s indeed a big pressure, and we live for that. That’s the fuel. That’s the driving force for each day of hard training that’s happening. I welcome it,” said Obiena, who was chosen as the country’s flag bearer in the opening ceremony of the regional showpiece.

“[The SEA Games] are my stepping stones to betterment and improvement. You know, you’re competing, and honing your skills. It’s a test of how I can perform under pressure. The biggest pressure was probably in the Olympics, but this is still one of those moments, especially being the flag bearer. I love that, and let’s see.”

Back in 2019, Obiena won the SEA Games gold in style after setting a record 5.45 meters on his medal-winning jump.

However, that is now light work for the ever-improving star as he now holds the Asian men’s record of 5.93 meters, which he achieved last year in Austria.

So yes, there is some merit to Obiena’s fans having the utmost confidence in him to run away with the gold medal in Hanoi.

But like any other elite athlete, Obiena is treating all competitions with utmost respect, and that attitude can only bode well for his chances to reach the SEA Games summit once again this May. –