Pole vaulting superstar EJ Obiena has announced the good news: He has found support for his Olympic bid!
Ranked third in the world, Obiena signed a two-year sponsorship deal with Ayala Land, Incorporated (ACI) to support his training for the upcoming Summer Olympics — aka Paris 2024.
“Ayala Land supports pole vaulter EJ Obiena in Olympic bid,” posted the ALI official Facebook page. “ALI Chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Obiena, and ALI President and CEO Bernard Vincent Dy sign a 2-year sponsorship of ALI and Vermosa to support the national athlete’s training. Ayala Vermosa Sports Hub will also be EJ’s official training grounds in the Philippines while The CityFlats will be his home in Metro Manila.”
The announcement comes as a positive development after Obiena’s withdrawal from the Asian Indoor Championships held earlier this year due to logistical and financial concerns. Last February 8, Obiena lamented his inability to compete in the competition in a self-published Facebook post, citing the difficulty of transporting his poles to Astana, Kazakhstan, where the competition was held, as well as a year-long delay in payments made to his training team:
I am truly heartbroken to share this news. I shall be unable to participate in the upcoming Asian Indoor Championships next week in Kazakhstan. I won’t be able to bring glory to my country. I am not injured or sick. I am physically and mentally ready to go. To fight for gold in the Philippines.
The issues are two-fold. First, a pole vaulter without his poles is an ineffective pole vaulter. Despite huge efforts from everyone including my federation (PATAFA) and Mr. Capistrano, we are simply unable to get my poles to Astana, Kazakhstan. None of the airlines serving Astana will bring the poles. My mentor James Lafferty even worked with Pepsi Kazakhstan to drive the poles from Almaty to Astana. That didn’t work as it’s a 17H drive. […]
The second issue is continuing financial issues. Despite all the issues of the past supposedly being resolved, my team has not been paid now in over a year. Payments are caught up in red tape. Unfortunately, some of my team are now threatening to leave Team Obiena. I cannot blame them. Who could work free for over a year? They have families to support and bills to pay. They can’t keep working for free. I can only hope this resolves soon. I am losing a team I desperately need. Nobody wins alone. It [has] always been a team effort.
Although public response to the Facebook post showed to be overwhelming in support, with several fans offering to provide donations, Obiena graciously rejected the offer.
“I cannot adequately express to all of you how deeply touched my team and I are by your generosity. Bayanihan still runs strong in Filipinos,” wrote Obiena in gratitude. He then cited two reasons for his decision to not accept the donations.
Obiena explained: “I am a national athlete and my expenses have been approved for payment by the PSC and funded from taxpayer revenues. As all of you are taxpayers, I must respect that you have already paid for my training. It is just not the right thing to do to ask you to pay once via paying taxes and then pay again privately. This is “double dipping” and it’s not ethical.”
“A team of people is working on the matter now, and I must have faith they will resolve it soon. It hence would be questionable for me to accept donations and then [have] this resolve in the near future [while] “double dipping.” I should allow some time for this to resolve,” Obiena further added.
Despite his lingering financial concerns, and with the exception of the missed Asian Indoor Championships, Obiena was still able to compete for the Philippines, winning a streak of medals across Europe before his unfortunate last-place finish in the final competition of his indoor season in France last February 2.
Obiena placed 10th at the Meeting Hautes-de-France Pas-de-Calais after clearing only 5.64 meters, a far cry from the 5.94m-record he achieved in the previous year’s World Athletics Championship.
“Happy for the wins, but a lot more needs to be improved on. Focusing now on my recovery, training, and reaching greater heights,” commented Obiena on his indoor season performance.
That said, in recognition of his achievements, Obiena was recently honored with a Major Award at the Philippine Sportswriters Association Awards Night 2022 held on March 6, 2023, for his “unrelenting pursuit of greatness,” which resulted in a new Asian record and the first World medal won by a Filipino pole vaulting athlete.
In line with this merit, Obiena is more determined than ever to continue the fight for glory. Moving on to jumping higher pursuits, he wrote, “Bye indoor 2023, and back to work. Thank you, everyone, for your support!”