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OLYMPIC pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena has been named Team Philippines’ flag-bearer for the 31st Southeast Asian Games at the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Obiena and Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz were both nominated by the Philippine Olympic Committee for the honor but the organizers deemed that only one athlete can be given the honor. Diaz supported Obiena’s selection, saying that the latter is the “story of every Filipino athlete who fights to bring home pride and glory to the country.”
“I’m very happy to see EJ as our flag bearer for Team Philippines,” said Diaz, who, like Obiena, will defend her weightlifting gold medal in the postponed Games from last year. “I’m happy for him and the rest of the Philippine delegation. I will support him.”
“There could only be one flag bearer for each country. We nominated Hidilyn and EJ, but it was turned down,” Philippine Olympic Committee president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said. “Like Hidilyn, EJ has all the qualifications to be our flag bearer.”
Obiena is favored to win a SEA Games gold medal. He won gold in the 2019 Philippine Games with a commanding leap of 5.45 meters and since then, has set the bar higher to a new Asian men’s record of 5.93 meters he set last year in Innsbruck, Austria, last year.
“It’s an honor,” Obiena said. “I was heading home after training here in Formia [Italy] when I received the message.”
As flag bearer, a big responsibility comes with the honor. But Obiena said he’s ready for the challenge.
“All I can do for now is to train harder and be better, and smarter,” the 26-year-old Obiena said. “I really want to defend my SEA Games title.”
The 6-foot-2 pole vaulter is one of 656 athletes who will be defending the country’s grip of the overall championship in the Games that Vietnam is hosting for only the second time since 2003.
The hosts programmed 40 sports—the Philippines is competing in 39 of them—which they intend to dominate. But Tolentino is undaunted.
“We are fielding a fighting team,” Tolentino said.
Team Philippines will fly to Vietnam in batches with the main bulk set to leave on May 10, two days before the opening ceremony. The Games end on May 23. (JNP)