After bronze in worlds, EJ Obiena eyes elusive 6-meter mark

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 25 2022 04:34 PM

Ernest John Obiena of the Philippines celebrates his bronze during the medal ceremony for the Men's Pole Vault Final at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, USA, 24 July 2022. John G. Mabanglo, EPA-EFE.
Ernest John Obiena of the Philippines celebrates his bronze during the medal ceremony for the Men's Pole Vault Final at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, USA, 24 July 2022. John G. Mabanglo, EPA-EFE.

EJ Obiena reached the podium of the World Athletics Championship for the first time on Sunday in Eugene, Oregon, but the Filipino pole vaulter was not entirely satisfied with his performance.

Obiena cleared 5.94 meters in the men's pole vault finals at Hayward Field in his second try, improving upon his personal best and resetting the national and Asian record as well. He had previously cleared 5.93 meters in Austria last year.

Swedish star Mondo Duplantis won gold with a new world record of 6.21 meters, while American Chris Nilsen took the silver after needing just one attempt to clear 5.94 meters.

"To be honest, I didn't think about the height at that time. I was just like, I need to make this," Obiena told TJ Manotoc of ABS-CBN News after the event. 

Obiena initially felt that clearing 5.87 meters would put him on the podium, but six other pole vaulters cleared the mark -- including his own training partner, Thiago Braz of Brazil, a former Olympic champion.

Obiena was one of three athletes to clear 5.94 meters, together with Nilsen and Duplantis. Braz failed twice to clear 5.94 meters and reserved his final jump for 6 meters but could not succeed at that height.

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"Everybody started making it [5.87 meters]," Obiena recalled. "I was like, I need to make the next one."

Braz's failure to clear the six-meter mark assured that Obiena would make the podium. But the Filipino vaulter still had an opportunity to further improve upon his personal best as he attempted six-meters -- a height he has not cleared even in practice. 

Obiena was unable to get off the ground in three tries for six-meters, however, and frustration was evident on the vaulter's face after his last attempt.

"I believe I had that six-meter in me today," said Obiena. "But you know, knowing that I medalled, I think it took a lot in me."

"It was definitely, definitely not the way to go. That's why I'm a little bit frustrated as well," he added. "I don't think it's a chance that you get every single day. I failed to maximize that today."

Only 22 men have cleared six meters in the history of men's pole vault. Duplantis, the world record holder, owns the three best marks in the event, having cleared 6.16 meters in June 2022 and 6.15 meters in September 2020.

It's a mark that Obiena now has his sights on even as he celebrates a historic achievement. The 26-year-old is the first Filipino to reach the podium of the World Athletics Championship.

He dedicated the feat to his countrymen, saying: "Thank you for sticking with me all through that tough time. I hope this is something that's gonna make your day a little bit better, a little bit happier."