EJ Obiena 'moving forward' after Tokyo campaign

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 19 2021 03:12 PM

Philippines' Ernest John Obiena in action during the men's pole vault. Johanna Geron, Reuters.
Philippines' Ernest John Obiena in action during the men's pole vault. Johanna Geron, Reuters.

MANILA, Philippines -- The memory of his campaign in the Tokyo Olympics still stings, but Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena is glad that he is moving forward from that experience.

Obiena placed 11th in the pole vault finals at the Olympic Stadium, having cleared 5.70-meters. The mark was well below his personal best of 5.87-m at the time. Obiena had tried for 5.80-m but fouled on all his jumps.

"It always stings," the 25-year-old athlete told former PBA Commissioner Noli Eala on "Power and Play." "Looking back to that day, it stings."

"I set out to do something historic, something I do believe, and what these past couple of weeks showed, I'm capable of doing. It stings," he said.

Obiena admitted that he was "down" after the Olympics, with plenty of questions and doubts lingering in his mind. It was painful, he said, to have been unable to deliver on the day of the final, and the disappointment stayed with him for a while.

"What happened? What exactly happened on that day where I was supposed to be able to perform and bring my best, bring my A-game on that day, and wasn't able to?" he said. "Those things, as an athlete, that haunts you a little bit, and that questions your ability to compete, your ability to perform."

"That took a lot for me. I wasn't myself, I would say, after that… Even in my daily life, it affected me. I was doubting myself in the smallest things, and I'm like, this is just not right," he added.

"I needed to try, I needed to assert to myself and prove it to myself, that that was a fluke. What happened there, that was a fluke. That wasn't me, that wasn't who I am, that's not what I have been working for."

Obiena was able to do just that in his post-Tokyo competitions. He returned to action in late August, placing fifth at the Lausanne leg of the Diamond League. Then in the Paris leg, he set a new milestone when he cleared 5.91-m, good for a new personal best and a new national record.

It was a precursor to his biggest achievement to date: clearing 5.93-m at the 2021 Golden Roof Challenge in Austria earlier this month to break the longstanding Asian record.

"I really needed this badly," Obiena said of his recent successes. "There was some doubts, of course, especially after what happened in Tokyo. You ask yourself sometimes, am I actually able to do what I set out to do?"

"That's why this means a lot to me, more than anyone else, this means a lot to me," he added.

His achievements in the past few weeks went a long way in restoring Obiena's confidence, and quieting at least some of the doubts that he felt after the Olympics. It also gives him hope for his future in pole vaulting.

"Let's just say I'm not fully recovered," he said. "But I can say I can look forward, I can move forward and still believe in myself, that I'm actually able to perform and compete."

"So I wouldn't say I'm recovered, I would say I have moved on. I could have, of course, looking back it stings a little bit. It makes you feel something inside of you, but now I can honestly say I'm happy," he added.

"I know I have a good future moving forward to this sport, and I think that's something that I really needed badly, after that, as you said, fluke in Tokyo."

Obiena is now taking a break after a busy year, but he is already looking forward to what should also be a hectic 2022.

Not only is he hoping to compete in the Southeast Asian Games and the Asian Games, but he is also eyeing 2022 World Athletics Indoor Championships that takes place on March 18-20 in Belgrade, Serbia.

"I'm aiming for the World Indoor first, the first major championship on my head, on my calendar. But it would need to be coming from my federation first. But of course, I would want to. That's a championship that I wanna compete at," he said.


Watch more on iWantTFC