Just one month after resetting the Asian pole vaulting record in Norway and one week after dominating the Asian Athletic Championships in Thailand, EJ Obiena is now celebrating another career milestone — rising to his all-time best ranking as second in the world!
Obiena, who not long ago joined the elite six-meter club by hurdling 6.00m in the Bergen Jump Challenge last June, overtook Chris Nilsen of the USA after a stellar streak of medals, pushing the 2020 Tokyo Olympic silver medalist down to third.
The new achievement, however, does not guarantee any easy victory for the Asian champion. In fact, Obiena conceded the gold to Nilsen during the Monaco leg of the Wanda Diamond League held just last Saturday, July 21, after failing to clear 5.92m twice and 6.02m once. Nilsen topped the competition by clearing 5.92m on his first attempt.
Furthermore, alongside bronze medalist Kurtis Marschall (Australia), both Obiena and Nilsen finished ahead of the world’s no. 1 Armand Duplantis (Sweden), who unexpectedly settled for a fourth-place tie with Sam Kendricks (USA) at 5.72m.
As the reigning Olympic champion and holder of both the indoor and outdoor pole vaulting world records (6.21m and 6.22m, respectively), Duplantis is widely considered to be the gold medal favorite for Paris 2024, making the podium miss a surprise.
Ultimately, in the lead-up to the next Olympic games, the resounding question is whether or not Obiena can beat Duplantis again.
“I hate losing. I don’t say I hate second or third. I just hate losing. Winning is a different feeling, but the difference between winning and losing is pretty slim in this kind of sport,” said Obiena, wanting to repeat the victory.
Obiena will face his next challenge in the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary on August 26 as the reigning bronze medalist. Although he has already proven himself a serious repeat podium contender after officially clearing six meters in competition, Obiena noted that maintaining that consistency is what the battle is truly about.
“Physically, I know what I’m capable of. But more than half the game is mental,” Obiena explained.
Of course, the grind will only get harder in the next few months, what with the next Summer Olympic Games now just exactly one year away. Fortunately, Obiena has already stepped one foot closer to the finish line, having become the first Filipino athlete to qualify for Paris 2024.
“There is no time to relax. I focus on getting better each day, and I just have to continue what I’m doing,” said Obiena, a now assured two-time Olympian. “The preparation and training never stop.”