MANILA, Philippines -- Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena received a boost amid a turbulent period in his athletic career, with Olympic champion Hidilyn Diaz expressing her support for him.
Obiena, 26, is mired in a feud with his own national sports association, the Philippine Athletic Track and Field Association (PATAFA), over funds. The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) has recently stepped in to mediate between the two parties in the hopes of an amicable resolution.
The pole vaulter also recently underwent surgery to fix some meniscus issues in his left knee and is currently in recovery.
"Alam ko medyo mahirap, mahirap ang pinagdadaanan mo ngayon," Diaz told Obiena during an appearance on the "Level Up" show on Radyo Katipunan.
Diaz, 30, said she is very familiar with what Obiena is going through, telling the younger athlete: "Alam ko 'yung mahirap na mag-liquidate, alam ko rin 'yung hirap na andiyan ka sa Italy na mag-isa, malayo sa pamilya."
Like Obiena, Diaz also had a much-publicized issue about her funding and spent more than a year away from her family while preparing for the Tokyo Olympics. Both athletes are also enduring layoffs, albeit for different reasons: While Obiena is recovering from injury, Diaz recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Diaz, who competed in four Olympic Games before winning the Philippines' first-ever gold medal in Tokyo last year, told Obiena to keep his head high amid the challenges.
"Lagi mong iisipin na kaya mo 'yan, ginagawa mo ito dahil alam mong kaya mo. Kaya mong manalo ng gold medal sa Olympics, at naniniwala kami sa iyo," she said.
"Nandito kami para suportahan ka. Kayang-kaya mo 'yan," she added.
Obiena, the lone Asian to reach the pole vault finals in Tokyo, was grateful for Diaz's message and her constant support. According to the pole vaulter, he had been in contact with Diaz even before his funding row against PATAFA became public knowledge.
"In our multiple conversations, I always ask, what do you think, should I trust this person, how was your experience when this comes," he recalled. "She walks me through it. Just having her support, I'm really thankful."
For Obiena, Diaz remains an inspirational figure, especially after her historic triumph in Tokyo last year when she ruled the women's 55kg division of weightlifting.
"She's been very inspiring," Obiena said of Diaz, who has embraced her role as the older sister of Filipino athletes, particularly the Olympians. "I think she showed the world that … Filipinos can be the best in the world."
"The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, I think that was the biggest moment in the country, and that's gonna be embedded in history. So this coming from her, ate, you know, I'm really thankful," he added.
Diaz is the second Olympic medalist to publicly express her support for Obiena.
Earlier this month, boxer Eumir Marcial, who won bronze in Tokyo, also backed Obiena and asked other Filipinos to "show our solidarity with EJ."