EJ Obiena honored to get cheers from Chinese-dominated crowd at Asian Games | Inquirer Sports

EJ Obiena honored to get cheers from Chinese-dominated crowd at Asian Games

/ 06:36 PM October 07, 2023

 Philippines' EJ Obiena celebrates with the Philippines flag after winning the Asian Games men's Pole Vault Final

Asian Games – Hangzhou 2022 – Athletics – Olympic Sports Centre Stadium, Hangzhou, China – September 30, 2023 Philippines’ EJ Obiena celebrates with the Philippines flag after winning the Men’s Pole Vault Final REUTERS/Jeremy Lee

MANILA, Philippines — EJ Obiena not only earned a historic Asian Games gold medal, but he also won the hearts of the Chinese-dominated 80,000 fans at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium.

The World No.2 pole vaulter admitted that he was expecting jeers from the crowd with China bet Huang Bokai among his competitors in the pole vault final.

But surprisingly, the crowd rallied behind Obiena after he easily soared past 5.90 meters in one attempt to set a new Asian Games record in the biggest stadium he’s ever competed in.

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“Going in, they’re hosting the country and there are Chinese competing in the competition. I had this in my head that I needed to prepare for the worst-case scenario and the worst-case scenario was going head-to-head with a local athlete and I’m gonna get booed by 80,000 people. I needed to be able to visualize that and still be able to perform,” Obiena said during his homecoming press conference at Chiang Kai Shek College. 

“The total opposite happened, 80,000 people clapping at my signal. I was telling them to clap at this rhythm, they’re clapping, 80,000 people. I cannot tell you how amazing that feels, it’s the biggest stadium I’ve been to. The biggest crowd that I’ve asked to help me jump and they did. I’m just honored to be there,” he added.

Obiena sealed the country’s first Asian Games athletics gold in 37 years first since the late Lydia de Vega’s 100-meter campaign in Seoul and ending a three-decade medal drought since Elma Muros’ bronze in the women’s long jump in 1994.

He then attempted to reset his Asian record of 6m by going for 6.02m with fellow Filipino athletes and fans cheering him. Although he failed to set a new personal best, he still received a round of applause from the jampacked crowd.

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“That 5.90 jump was a cherry on top and made the season a bit better. I wanted to go 6.02 because I wanted to jump in front of the crowd higher than 6 meters and I think that would have made the competition much more significantly unified to see the first Asian pole vaulter to go over 6 meters in my home soil which is Asia,” Obiena said.

WINNING WAS A RELIEF

Asian Games - Hangzhou 2022 - Athletics - Olympic Sports Centre Stadium, Hangzhou, China - September 30, 2023 Philippines' EJ Obiena in action during the Men's Pole Vault final

Asian Games – Hangzhou 2022 – Athletics – Olympic Sports Centre Stadium, Hangzhou, China – September 30, 2023 Philippines’ EJ Obiena in action during the Men’s Pole Vault final REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

The 27-year-old Obiena, who had an impressive year after becoming World No.2 and winning silver in the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary last August, said winning the country’s first gold in the 19th Asian Games was a relief after being tagged as a gold-medal favorite.

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“Winning didn’t feel as blissful as I thought it would be. It felt more like a relief. I think you guys are to blame there because you guys have been writing I’m gonna bring back the gold before the meet,” he said. “In sports, nothing is certain. The probability of me winning was high but it was never certain until I had the medal. Going into the meet, it felt more like a relief when I won it.”

The Filipino Olympian congratulated Meggie Ochoa after winning gold and all his fellow athletes in the Asian Games, which ends on Sunday. He also wished Gilas Pilipinas good luck as it guns for the Asiad supremacy against Jordan on Friday evening.

“I’m very proud of how the athletes have been performing, putting their hearts out right there. Some people are taking a punch in the face so, it’s amazing what we’re doing. I still believe the results are not showing how great the athletes are,” Obiena said. “There are certain things that are happening that are out of our control, sports is such a variable thing. Nothing is set in stone until you’ve won what you need to win and jumped what you need to jump.”

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“[For Gilas Pilipinas] freakin’ get that gold. That’s it! Simple as that,” he added.

TAGS: Asian Games, EJ Obiena

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