All-out war – Obiena

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star
All-out war � Obiena
EJ Obiena

World No. 2 pole vaulter EJ Obiena is well aware of the weight of responsibility of bringing home an Olympic gold medal. His preparations began in earnest the day after the Asian Games. But he got a tremendous lift during a short trip back home to the Philippines, not just because of the millions of pesos in rewards from sponsors and the Filipino-Chinese community, but because of the response from ordinary Filipinos.

“Overwhelming,” Obiena recalls. “I knew that winning the gold means a lot for the country, but I didn’t realize that it meant much more than I expected. With that, again I’m very thankful to be in a position to be able to make history. Not everybody is given that opportunity. I’m overwhelmed but again, really humbled and thankful.”

After a disappointing 11th-place finish in the Tokyo Olympics, the 28-year old worked on getting stronger, physically and mentally. He admits to his mistakes, and adds that there were certain things beyond his control, taking full responsibility for the results.

“I’m more excited (for Paris), I would say, more excited in what I have to do,” EJ adds. “I’m looking forward. I’m gonna know, do I have the talent in me or not? I’ve never been in such a position that I am in right now. If I crack, then that means I crack.”

The vast majority do not realize the complexity of pole vault. Aside from all the various physical preparation, the mental side of the game is quite formidable. Obiena has the full support of an entire team behind him, incuding a coach that keeps him focused on what to progress on, and a Filipina sport psychologist to work through any issues or mental blocks.

“We do a lot of gymnastics. We do a lot of weightlifting sessions, strength training. We do a lot of speed work, and of course, technical sessions,” he explains. “All of that would probably be stitched by discipline I would say. The discipline to continuously work on your craft, and try to be better and be meticulous in everything that you do.”

There are still two challenges to get over on the road to Paris. The first is consistently jumping over six meters. This decade, only four pole vaulters have cleared that intimidating height. The second obstacle: beating the world’s No. 1 pole vaulter, Armand Duplantis, who has rewritten the world record seven times. The Olympic pole vault qualification round is on Aug. 3. The final in on Aug. 5.

“The final is gonna be an all-out war,” Obiena exclaims. “It’s gonna be a battle of the nerves, battle of all the hard work that you’ve done in the last month or so, just culmination of everything.”

More on Saturday.

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