Obiena clears 5.93 meters to topple long-standing Asian pole vault record
MANILA, Philippines — Pumped up by the blaring music and egged on by the crowd, EJ Obiena cleared 5.93 meters on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to put icing on the 2021 Golden Roof Challenge cake by resetting a seemingly untouchable Asian pole vault record in Innsbruck, Austria.
“I couldn’t do it without you guys. Every single one, I would like to thank you deep in my heart,’’ Obiena addressed the horde of cheering fans after his triumphant odyssey as he erased the previous all-time standard of 5.92m held by Igor Potapovich of Kazakhstan since 1992 in a meet in Dijon, France.
He then acknowledged that the full house crowd in the makeshift venue on one of Austria’s historic streets proved instrumental.
“I wanted this one so bad. I couldn’t have done it without all of you guys,’’ said Obiena, just two weeks removed from the Paris Diamond League where the 6-foot-2 vaulter reset his own Philippine record to 5.91m.
Aside from the new Asian mark, Obiena is also working on raising his world rankings, which is No. 5, behind Olympic champion Armand Duplantis of Sweden, Americans Christopher Nilsen and Sam Kendricks, and Renaud Lavillenie of France.
“I may not meet the expectations, but I keep trying. The journey continues and I am proud to carry the nation with me,’’ said Obiena, who has begun an early Olympic journey that would ultimately lead to Paris in 2024 where he can make up for a failed bid in Tokyo last month.
Matt Ludwig of the United States settled for the silver medal, beating Ersu Sasma of Turkey via the count back after both hurdled 5.60m. Sasma had to do it twice while Ludwig cleared the height trouble-free in his first effort.
Already assured of the gold medal after clearing 5.80m and with all of his rivals gone, Obiena went after the Asian record by pushing the bar higher to 5.93m.
Clearance to spare
Psyching up by talking to himself, Obiena ran to the pole strike and nearly cleared the first attempt, only for his lower right chest to graze the bar on his way down.
He briefly reviewed the video of his initial try before picking up his pole a second time, failing when his right shin hit the bar on the way up.
It was at this point that Obiena changed his pole, made the adjustment, and finally hurdled the height with still a good deal of clearance to spare.
“Even minor and subtle adjustments, unnoticed by ordinary laymen like us, can become a game-changer and turning point at the highest level of a very technical and dangerous event like pole vault,’’ said Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association president Philip Ella Juico.
“We believe Obiena is working towards consistency in his performance and a more robust mental toughness plan of action,’’ added Juico.
Obiena, who finished 11th in Tokyo where Duplantis dominated, will next see action at the ISTAF (International Stadionfest) in Berlin, Germany, on Sunday evening.