EJ Obiena rises above self-doubt after record-breaking run

·2 min read
TOKYO, JAPAN August 3:   Ernest John Obiena of the Philippines during the Pole Vault Final for Men at the Olympic Stadium during the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games on August 3rd, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
Ernest John Obiena of the Philippines. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

When the 2020 Tokyo Olympics reached its conclusion, EJ Obiena found himself in a mire of self-doubt.  

After all, the Filipino pole vaulter, who had an impressive Summer Games build-up where he consistently soared over 5.80 meters to emerge as one of the top medal prospects of the Philippines, struggled when it mattered most.  

His best height clearance in the Olympiad was 5.75m, which proved enough to push him past the preliminaries but was insufficient for a podium finish in the final round, where his campaign came to a close at 11th place.  

"I was down after Tokyo, questioning what had happened. Why was I not performing as well as I should have, (when) I believe I could have? That haunts me," Obiena revealed on Power & Play.  

Self-doubt, if left unchecked, can lead an athlete down a dark and uncertain path. Fortunately, Obiena knows how to handle it.  

"I just needed to have some kind of sign that I'm actually capable, that I'm actually okay, I'm actually good, that I'm actually able to do all of this," the University of Santo Tomas product said. 

It did not take long before Obiena regained his footing.  

Several weeks after the Olympics, and he has already engaged in six international competitions, where he would finish either within the top five or on the podium.  

His best outing came down at the 2021 Golden Roof Challenge in Innsbruck, Austria, where he rewrote the Philippine and Asian record books with a gold-medal performance that saw him clear a height of 5.93m.

This eclipsed his previous national record of 5.91m set in the Wanda Diamond League several weeks ago and, more impressively, the Asian record of 5.92m established by Igor Potapovich of Kazakhstan back in 1998. 

It was the perfect redemption for Obiena, who has also climbed to No. 5 in the world pole vault rankings.  

"I needed to measure that I can actually pull this off and I want to have some sense of accomplishment with this season because the biggest competition was Tokyo and it wasn't pleasant. Therefore I really needed this badly," Obiena shared.  

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

Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.

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