The rainy Monday afternoon of May 8 saw a spectacular performance from the Filipino pole vaulter, EJ Obiena, as he claimed his third straight gold medal at the Southeast Asian Games held at the Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Despite the heavy rain and gusty winds, Obiena broke his own Southeast Asian Games records, which he had set last year in Vietnam, by clearing 5.65m.
The rain delay, which lasted for over an hour, hardly slowed down the Asian record holder as he smashed his previous SEA Games mark of 5.46m set in Vietnam last year. Before the downpour disrupted play, Obiena cleared the heights of 5.20m and 5.40m, leaving the other pole vaulters and organizers scurrying for cover under the various umbrella tents that were placed around the field.
However, Obiena persevered, breaking his own SEA Games mark three more times with clearances in 5.55m, 5.60m, and finally, 5.65m. Letting out a triumphant roar after his last vault, he then took a bow in front of a boisterous but compact Filipino crowd, who had filled a small section of the 75,000-seat stadium.
Despite having the potential to jump higher, Obiena expressed exhaustion after the delay caused by heavy rainfall in Phnom Penh during the finals. “I’m feeling tired. Maybe if I had more energy, I could have jumped higher, but it’s still early in the season,” admitted the Filipino star. He had previously opened his season at an indoor meeting in Padova with a remarkable jump of 5.65m.
On his Facebook, the world-class athlete wrote: “First Championship of the year went well. Title Defended and broke the SEA Games Record 4 times. Proud of this achievement, considering the conditions that we were in. Thank you to everyone that stayed in the rain with us, SEA vaulters.”
Obiena’s gold medal came as no surprise, as he is considered the best pole vaulter in the region. Thailand’s Kasinpob Chomchanad and Patsapong Amsamaring completed the podium with silver and bronze, respectively, as they both leaped past 5.20m.
He expressed that his success wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the crowd. He believed that everything that occurred was part of God’s plan, and he was content with the outcome.
In contrast, Elijah Cole, a first-time participant in the SEA Games for the Philippine team, was unable to clear the 4.90m height, despite attempting it three times.
Obiena, who is currently ranked as the world’s No. 3 vaulter, broke his own SEA Games record thrice despite recuperating from a left foot injury he suffered last week. Obiena, the 27-year-old pole vaulter, displayed his tenacity by clearing the heights of 5.55m and 5.60m. He had to make a final attempt to achieve the final height.
It’s certainly a difficult task, Obiena said, admitting competing in the rain presents a unique set of challenges. Although it’s not his first time competing in these conditions, he doesn’t particularly enjoy it but it’s something he had had to deal with.
The Filipino pole vaulter’s performance came as a prelude to a long outdoor season, where he will be looking to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Obiena needs to clear 5.82m to secure his ticket to the Olympics.
Despite the challenging conditions, Obiena’s outstanding performance once again showed his dominance in the Southeast Asian region. The Filipino pole vaulter is poised to make his mark on the global stage and cement his position as one of the world’s top athletes in his field.