TOKYO – No one among those present dared ask Philippine pole vault specialist EJ Obiena, who arrived here Friday afternoon, if he believes he can beat world champion Armand Duplantis of Sweden in the XXXII Olympiad.
That would be irreverent, knowing that Obiena’s best jump of 5.87 meters, which he recorded at a tournament in Poland two months ago, pales in comparison to the American-born Swede’s world indoor mark of 6.18 meters.
Obiena must have sensed the forthcoming query anyway.
“I don’t know the stats. I’m just here to do my part to jump. I have competed with these guys multiple times. I’m here to bring my normal self come qualification day and hopefully the finals,” he said.
The 6-foot-2 Tondo, Manila-born Obiena has the opportunity to do even more — become the first Filipino in 85 years to win a medal in athletics in the Olympic Games.
After Miguel White pocketed a bronze medal in men’s 400 meter hurdles in the 1936 Berlin Games, the country had a near century-long drought of track and field medals in the Games.
“Thanks (that) I’m in a position where I’m actually vying for a medal and, realistically speaking, that actually I can,” Obiena said.
Calm in demeanor by nature, he nonetheless admitted to being stressed out only 24 hours ago. The reason? His vaulting poles.
“Actually, umaga na lang na-resolve that my poles would be loaded, nine in the morning when my flight was at 5 p.m. You can imagine the stress the day before,” said Obiena.
“I’m a pole vaulter. It is my job to jump with the pole. If I come here in Tokyo without the poles, then I can’t do my job. That stressed me out.”
But having resolved the matter, his focus has now singularly turned to the task at hand.
“I’m good. I don’t feel really so excited. I’m just calm. To be honest, I don’t feel to be like this… really hyped and everything. Maybe not yet, but I think that’s the good thing,” he said.
The pole vault qualifying event is on July 31, with the final on Aug. 3.