EJ Obiena shoots for Olympic glory in men's pole vault

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EJ Obiena shoots for Olympic glory against familiar opponents on Tuesday when he guns for nothing but the gold medal in the men’s pole vault at the Olympic Track Stadium in Tokyo.

A podium victory for Obiena would make him only the third Filipino athlete to win a medal in the sport after Simeon Toribio (men’s high jump) and Miguel White (men’s 400-meter hurdles) won bronzes in the 1932 Los Angeles and 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Obiena, ranked No. 6 in the world, cleared 5.75 meters in Saturday’s qualifications to book one of the 14 spots in the final, joining a tough field composed of athletes he has already competed against more than once.

Among those is reigning Olympic champion Thiago Braz of Brazil, who has been his training partner for years at a camp in Formia, Italy with Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov.

Braz also holds the current Olympic record of 6.03m he posted during his golden performance at the 2016 Rio Games.

Also in contention to name a few are Sweden’s Armand Duplantis, who is the heavy favorite to win the gold with his current world record of 6.18m, 2016 Rio Games silver medalist Renaud Lavillenie of France, United States champion Chris Nilsen, and multiple world championship medalist Piotr Lisek of Poland.

Obiena last saw action with this group of elite athletes at the Bauhaus-Galan Wanda Diamond League in Stockholm, Sweden last month where the Filipino national record holder placed fourth behind Duplantis, United States’ Sam Kendricks, and Lavillenie.

In that event, Obiena posted 5.82m behind Duplantis' 6.02m.

Obiena seeks to be more mentally focused and confident in the finals after nerves almost got in the way during the qualifications.

He also knows he has to perform better than his national record of 5.87m if he wants to earn that Olympic gold.

“I was struggling mentally, then I didn’t feel that confident. If I have another chance, then I’m gonna make it,” Obiena said after the qualifications.

Also competing for the Olympic gold are United States’ KC Lightfoot, Greece’s Emmanouil Karalis, Netherlands’ Menno Vloon, Australia’s Kurtis Marschall, Germany’s Oleg Zernikel and Bo Kanda Lita Baehre, Great Britain’s Harry Coppell and Turkey’s Ersue Sasma.