Why EJ Obiena felt like a 'villain' in Asian Games

Andrew MCKIRDY, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 01 2023 12:08 AM | Updated as of Oct 01 2023 12:37 AM

POC-PSC Media Pool.
Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena in action in the 19th Asian Games. POC-PSC Media Pool.

HANGZHOU, China -- Philippines pole vaulter EJ Obiena cruised to gold in an Asian Games record on Saturday -- and then said he missed not having record-breaker Armand Duplantis to compete against.

Obiena has been one of Swedish world record-holder Duplantis's closest rivals this year, finishing second behind him at last month's world championships in Budapest.

And no one could come close to Obiena in Hangzhou as he took gold in 5.90m -- 25cm clear of his nearest challengers.

Duplantis has dominated pole vault in recent years and improved his world record to 6.23m earlier this month at the Diamond League finals.

Obiena said competing against him "brings out the best in me".

"It doesn't mean it's easier to win -- it's easier to compete when he's there," he said.

"It doesn't make it easier when he's not here, it's just different."

Obiena said being able to dominate like Duplantis gave him a taste of "what he feels most of the time".

But he also said he felt like "a villain" for beating home favorite Huang Bokai to the gold. Huang instead earned silver.

"It's hard because for the first time I felt like it wasn't mine," he said.

"I felt like I was taking the medal from someone else."

China still had plenty to celebrate on the second night of athletics action, with Xie Zhenye and Ge Manqi giving the country a 100m sprint double.

Xie powered home to take the men's title in 9.97sec, ahead of Thailand's Puripol Boonson on 10.02 and Malaysia's Muhammad Azeem Mohd Fahmi on 10.11.

The 30-year-old Xie claimed the first Asian Games individual gold of his career, having been part of China's title-winning 4x100m relay team in 2014.

He was also part of the China team that won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago.

China's Su Bingtian, who reached the 100m final at the Tokyo Games, skipped the Asian Games to focus on his preparations for next year's Paris Olympics.

- Furious battle -

Ge came home in 11.23sec to take the women's title ahead of Singapore's Shanti Pereira (11.27) and Bahrain's Hajar Alkhaldi (11.35).

In the women's 400m, Bahrain's Kemi Adekoya held off countrywoman and 2019 world champion Salwa Eid Naser to win gold in a time of 50.66sec.

Eid Naser ran the third-fastest time in history when she won the world title four years ago in Doha but she was slapped with a two-year ban for missing doping tests in 2021.

She returned to competition earlier this year but she could not overhaul Adekoya in a furious battle down the home straight, finishing 0.26sec behind.

"It was not easy with Salwa," said Nigeria-born Adekoya, who won the 400m and 400m hurdles at the 2014 Asian Games.

"She could run so far because she was there battling with me -- I'm happy for her also."

In the men's 400m, Saudi Arabia's Yousef Masrahi came through a titanic battle to take gold ahead of Japan's Kentaro Sato and Bahrain's Yusuf Ali Abbas.

Masrahi took gold in a time of 45.55sec despite a desperate lunge for the line by Sato, who finished just 0.02sec behind.

Bahrain's Birhanu Balew won the men's 10,000m in a time of 28min 13.62sec, ahead of Indian pair Kartik Kumar and Gulveer Singh.

In the men's hammer throw final, China's Wang Qi won with a best of 72.97m, ahead of Qatar's Ashraf Amgad Elseify and Uzbekistan's Sukhrob Khodjaev.

© Agence France-Presse