Getting to Know Pole Vaulter and National Record Breaker EJ Obiena

Jul 31, 2021 0 comments


Not everyone can call themselves a history maker. At just 25 years old, EJ Obiena can. Time and time again too.

The pole vaulter will proudly represent our country in the upcoming 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo; one of only eight Filipino athletes thus far who’ll be able to do so. EJ, who is currently in Italy, is hard at work training and preparing for the grandest, most important event in the sporting world.

But as we slowly but surely tick off the days on the calendar while waiting for the Olympics, let’s get to know more about our pole vaulting Olympian.

The Sport


In a country where basketball and volleyball reign supreme as the most popular sports, it won’t be a surprise if there are people who’ll scratch their heads when they hear the words pole vaulting. For the uninitiated, pole vaulting is actually one of the many events classified under track and field, along with hurdling and long jump.

EJ’s love affair with pole vaulting actually started right at home. His father, Emerson, is a pole vaulter too who won a silver medal in the 1995 Southeast Asian Games and a bronze in the 2005 edition of the same competition. But believe it or not, pole vaulting wasn’t the only track and field sport EJ was into growing up.


“I was doing hurdling, my mom’s sport back in her time,” he shares about his mom, Jeanette. “I enjoyed it. It was my sport growing up.”

For some time, EJ did hurdling and pole vaulting side by side. So what made him choose to focus instead on pole vaulting?

“I saw I was good at it,” he says of his realization, which made him turn his attention solely on the sport during his last two years in high school. It also helped that the sport could get him scholarships for college. He eventually went on to compete for the University of Santo Tomas.

The Record Breaker


Every athlete out there aims to excel in their chosen sport whatever it may be. EJ is no different. But what is awe-inspiring and rather jaw-dropping about his journey so far are the records he broke along the way.

At just the age of 18, EJ broke the national pole vaulting record previously held by Edward Lasquete for 22 years by registering 5.01 meters during a relay held by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) in 2014. Since he was considered a junior at that time, he also broke the national junior record in the country. He ended up breaking his record more than thrice in that same year.


EJ went on to break his own record yet again during the 2015 Southeast Asian Games, registering 5.25 meters to win a silver medal, before successfully clearing 5.81 meters in a tournament in Italy that gave him his ticket to the world’s biggest sporting event.

The Olympics and the Pandemic


“Growing up, it was something I always wanted, always dreamed of,” EJ says of the Olympics. But the road to the Olympics, his very first one in an already record-breaking career, hasn’t been easy thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Having been in Italy since the last SEA Games, he says he felt “more isolated because of covid.” His parents aren’t with him and, when Italy went on lockdown for two months, he had to train at his apartment on his own. Despite the easing of restrictions, EJ describes his routine as “boring” and that every day, he wakes up, prepares breakfast, trains, goes back to the apartment, rests, and then trains again. But despite the restrictions that have been placed on sports in general, he has kept his eyes firmly on the Olympics.

“It challenges your drive, your reasons for doing [your sport],” says EJ. He knows the journey to the Olympics won’t be easy and that there are many challenges he has to hurdle past. “My team told me, ‘your path to the Olympics is not as regular as everyone is going through.’” But what changed his view about the whole thing were the words of his coach, Vitaly Petrov.


“Your job as an athlete is to improve each day,” EJ recounts the words of his mentor. “Whether there’s a competition or not.”

So has anything changed in terms of his training physically and mentally now that he’s preparing for the Olympics, the highest level of competition in the sporting world? “I don’t think I’m doing anything different, but it’s the little things that matter now,” he admits. “Olympic year ups the motivation of athletes and their performance. There’s more motivation to push yourself to the limit, which isn’t the case in a normal year.”


And with the Tokyo Olympics being his very first, what is he most looking forward to aside from the actual competition? “I have no idea what to look forward to,” says EJ. “I’m excited about it. I still have the same mindset. I take what I can with what the Olympics has to offer. I have no idea what to expect.”

The Role Model


It is without a shadow of doubt that EJ has been someone to look up to, especially among young athletes who dream of having their own career-defining, record-breaking moments. When asked for his message for aspiring athletes, especially those who are into sports that many wouldn’t consider the usual, he reminds, “Every person who does sport does it because they’re passionate about it, whether it’s popular or not.”

“You must look deep inside you, why you’re doing it,” he adds. “Focus more on your craft and just remember always what made you do it. And always remember that you have love and passion.”

Stay updated with EJ’s journey to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics by checking out his website, Facebook, or Instagram!

 

━━ Written By  Bella Javier



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