by Carolyn Weygan-Hildebrand
“Happy, but not satisfied,” Ernest John “EJ” Obiena answered when stopped as he worked his way around Eugene City’s Hayward Field track to allow spectators to congratulate him.
He said so with a big smile, clearly proud of the moment with the Filipino flag draped over his shoulder. He just won the bronze medal in the pole vault on a sensational last day of the World Athletics Championship 2022 (WCH2022).
His winning performance was among the most stellar records in the entire 2022 world championship competition. He recorded a personal best when he cleared 5.94 meters (19 feet 5 ¾ inches) and produced the first-ever world championship medal in Philippine sports history.
The silver medal was captured by United States’ Chris Nilsen, who also cleared 5.94 meters in one attempt only. The gold medal went to Sweden’s Armand Duplantis, who delivered a thrilling world record performance by clearing 6.21 meters.Duplantis and Nilsen were ranked number 1 and 2, respectively, before the most prestigious track and field competition. They were also the gold and silver medalists at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Hence, they were expected to win.
Meanwhile, Obiena was ranked number six in the world when he arrived in Eugene but bested nine other qualifiers and was on the world championship medal podium on July 24 evening.
For those who keenly followed his road to the World Championship games, it was clear that he had an excellent chance to medal.“We are doing well today so far. Today, our guy broke the Philippine record. As a Filipino, we are so proud of him,” said Jeffrey Chua, who identified himself as the leader of the Philippine delegation.
The Filipino flag image on his shirt made it very clear that he was at the Hayward Stadium to cheer for Obiena, who is the only Filipino athlete who qualified to compete at the WCH22. The best of the world’s pole vaulters, Obiena included, were cheered on by the thousands of spectators.As other sources would point out, the 26-year-old Obiena competed for Chang Kai Shek School and then the University of Santo Tomas (UST). He was initially in men’s hurdles before he shifted to pole vaulting.
He hails from Tondo in Manila, and his parents were also athletes in their days. His father coached him until he was 18 years old, but that all changed in 2014 when the legendary Sergey Bubka visited the Philippines.
Obiena learned of an opportunity to train in Italy, and the rest, as they say, is history. He is coached no less by Vitaly Petrov, who has previously coached Bubka. Obiena has been breaking records and has become the best in all of Asia.Pole vault as a modern sport can be traced back to Germany in the 1850s. Interestingly, bamboo poles were first used in 1857. Today, poles are usually made of fiberglass or carbon fiber.
As spectators who watched Obiena’s attempts in Eugene, we saw him change poles when he attempted 6 meters. He bailed out in all his three allowed attempts, which is perhaps his reason for saying that he was not satisfied.For spectators like me, we could not ask for anything more. Congratulations to EJ Obiena! It was a thrill to witness such a high-level competition where athletes were delivering their best!
by Carolyn Weygan-Hildebrand