EJ Obiena embraces responsibility as Asia’s top track and field athlete
HANGZHOU, China—EJ Obiena will enter the cavernous Hangzhou Olympic Centre Stadium and valiantly wave the Philippine flag on Saturday’s opening ceremony not only as the nation’s top athlete in the 19th Asian Games.
The Filipino pole vault star happens to be the No. 1 male track and field performer in the continent as well.
“Many people [pat] me on the back for being Asia’s number one track and field athlete. I view this differently,” said Obiena, the co-flag bearer along with skateboarder Margielyn Didal who will spearhead the 396-athlete Philippine contingent.
Obiena topped the Asian athletics rankings with 1443 points with javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra of India (1429) and Japanese 110m hurdler Shunsuke Izumiya (1417) lurking closely behind.
Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim (high jump) placed fourth overall with 1403 points and Japanese Masatora Kawano (35km walk) wound up fifth (1383).
“It’s a huge sense of honor and responsibility. In my profession, I am a visible symbol of the best from the amazing continent of Asia,” said the 27-year-old Obiena, the Asian champion and record holder of six meters in his event.
Based in Italy under the tutelage of renowned Ukranian coach Vitaly Petrov, Obiena recently placed second in the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary behind world record holder Armand “Mondo” Duplantis of Sweden.
Another silver finish at the Diamond League finals last week again won by Duplantis in Oregon, United States pushed Obiena to the No. 2 spot in the world rankings behind the Swede.
“I must not let Asia down. I must go into these international competitions and showcase the talent and capability of us all. I must also conduct myself with honor and dignity and never tarnish the greatness of Asia,” said Obiena.
After defending his Asian championships title two months ago in Bangkok, Thailand, Obiena is looking to close out his season with a gold medal in the Asiad, the only continental title lacking in his trophy room after placing outside of the medal rankings in 2018 Indonesia.
“One more to go. I need to own this and understand that I have a target on my back. The pressure is building up but that’s a privilege. I have to be committed in every jump,” said Obiena, the first and so far the only Filipino qualifier in next year’s Paris Olympics.
A second generation vaulter who got the inspiration from his father, former national team standout Emerson, Obiena’s D-Day is set Sept. 30 when his toughest rivals Saudi Arabia’s Hussain Alhizam and host China’s Huang Bokai looms as the only genuine threat.
Obiena cleared a meet record of 5.91 meters in the Asian championships while Alhizam placed second with 5.56m and Huang hurdled 5.51m for the bronze. Both Alhizam and Bokai train under Petrov.