Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena has been showing the world that he's out to challenge the top contenders in the sport's biggest stage.
Obiena became the first Filipino Tokyo 2020 Olympics qualifier in 2019 when he made the cut in a meet in Chairi, Italy.
Now ranked No. 6 in the world, Obiena quietly navigated through twists and turns in his life before earning a spot in the Tokyo Games.
Obiena’s family is very active in the country’s athletics scene.
His dad Emerson was a previous national record holder and Southeast Asian (SEA) Games silver and bronze medalist.
His mom Jeanette was a hurdler during her collegiate days, while his sister Emily followed his footsteps and also became a pole vaulter like their dad.
Obiena started pole vaulting when he was six years old after witnessing his dad excel in the sport.
As his family loved sports, Obiena received the support and encouragement to pursue pole vaulting, as it also led to university scholarships in Ateneo and University of Santo Tomas.
The pole vault prodigy surpassed his dad’s record of 4.95 meters in 2014, when he breached 5.0m.
In 2014, Obiena moved to Formia, Italy to train with Ukranian coach Vitaly Petrov, who rose to fame after coaching 1988 Olympic gold medalist Sergey Bubka.
In the early 2000s, Petrov was able to train four more Olympic gold medalists and world champions, including Brazilian Thiago Braz.
Obiena is good friends with Braz, who won the 2016 Rio Olympics gold, and the two continue to train together.
Since then, Obiena was exposed to the high-level pole vault circuit in Europe, where he consistently competes with American-Swedish wunderkind Armand Duplantis, American Sam Kendricks, and France’s Renaud Lavillenie.
Obiena’s most heartbreaking moment came in the 2017 SEA Games, where he sustained an ACL injury a day before leaving for the event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
But Obiena came back stronger after the injury as he was able to nail more milestones.
He reset his national record thrice in 2019, which culminated in the Chiari meet where he recorded 5.81 meters, breaching the Olympic cut of 5.80 meters.
Obiena then bounced back stronger in the country’s hosting of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games with his maiden gold medal.
At the start of 2021, Obiena eclipsed the national indoor record thrice then continued to dominate the outdoor season by recording a new national record of 5.87m.
Obiena hopes to peak in the Tokyo Olympics, where he aims for the 29-year-old Asian record of 5.92m set by Kazakhstan’s Igor Potapovich in Dijon, France. – Rappler.com
More commonly known as Bee, Beatrice Go is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Philippine 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.