Justin James Albia

When it comes to pole vaulting, EJ Obiena has not only risen to prominence; he has soared above the competition, earning the title of the world's second-best pole vaulter. A historic moment echoed across the nation as he secured the Philippines' first gold medal for the sport at the 19th Asian Games last September.

Photo Courtesy of Inquirer

Embarking on his pole vaulting odyssey at a mere eight years old, EJ Obiena found himself under the mentorship of none other than his father. A brief flirtation with hurdling during elementary school didn't pan out as expected, prompting a return to pole vaulting in high school fueled by dreams of securing coveted scholarships from prestigious universities.

In the relentless pursuit of his pole vaulting aspirations, Obiena draws inspiration from two remarkable figures. His seasoned 74-year-old coach stands as a living testament to his unyielding commitment, urging him to unlock his potential each day. Moreover, the influential Sir Jim Lafferty exemplifies the virtues of honesty, authenticity, and a benevolent spirit which illuminates the path to greatness for Obiena in his athletic endeavors.

Amidst the peaks and valleys of his career, Obiena's resilience has been a testament to his unwavering dedication, and he attributes much of it to the country that has shaped him into a strong-willed athlete. The journey has not always been smooth, but it's the undying spirit of the Philippines that fuels Obiena's determination to reach greater heights.

In a recent Facebook post, Obiena offered a glimpse into his perspective on sports and success. While acknowledging his competitive nature and desire to win, he emphasized that for him, the medals are merely a "means to an end." Unlike some athletes focusing solely on the hardware, Obiena sees sports as a powerful tool for nation-building.

"I love my country deeply. I hence want to help my country," he expressed.

His ambition extends beyond personal victories; he envisions utilizing pole vaulting to instill national pride, ignite inspiration among the youth, and contribute to forging a brighter tomorrow for the Philippines.

EJ Obiena proudly holds a remarkable list of accomplishments, including:

- World Championship Silver Medalist (1 time)
- World Championship Bronze Medalist (1 time)
- Asian Games Gold Medalist (1 time)
- Two-time Asian Champion
- Asian Championships Bronze Medalist (1 time)
- World University Games Champion (1 time)
- Victorious at a Diamond League meeting (1 time)
- Achieved Top 8 finishes at Asian Indoor Championships (1 time) and Asian Games (1 time)
- National Champion (1 time)
- Currently, he stands as the Asian Record Holder in Pole Vault (1 time)

Obiena's PeopleAsia nomination underscores his commitment to a broader cause, transcending his athletic prowess. Humbly accepting the distinction of being recognized among Filipino society icons, he stated, "To be named among these icons of Filipino society, as merely an athlete, is a huge honor. It means, as a small form of confirmation perhaps, that indeed I am making an impact beyond just winning some medals." This acknowledgment reflects his role not only as an athlete but also as a source of inspiration and national esteem.

As Obiena sets his sights on the 2024 Summer Olympics, the nation watches in anticipation, knowing that his journey is more than just an individual pursuit for glory, but a collective ascent towards a brighter future. Obiena stands tall in times of triumph and adversity, representing not only himself but also the hopes and dreams of the nation. Thanking his supporters, he says he is honored to carry the weight of expectations, fueled by the love and support of a nation that believes in the power of sport to shape a legacy beyond the podium.

Edited by Khezyll Galvan