Winning six of eight high-level tournaments across Europe in a span of a few weeks has made Italy-based EJ Obiena into a different kind of athlete.
Obiena said the recent series of triumphs has completely altered his mindset.
“You know me. I keep saying that in every competition, I want to win gold. That really is my simple approach, and I think that’s the most straightforward approach in every competition,” Obiena said.
“I want to win and to be honest — it’s addicting to win — and I think it’s a good thing that I feel this way,” added the 26-year-old world No. 3.
Though he placed third in the world championships in Eugene, Oregon, it wasn’t until he failed to make the podium in Hungary that made him realize that his job wasn’t over yet.
In taking the bronze in the worlds, Obiena set a new Asian record of 5.94 meters and began thinking about ending his season.
But, a failed stint in Hungary woke him up.
“The World Championships was also one of my failures in a way. The bar was at six meters and I wasn’t able to do it. I knew my weakness was mental. I was gassed, I was exhausted,” Obiena said.
“My coach knew it. I was trying to recollect myself. To be honest with you guys, I wanted to end my season at that. I called my psychiatrist and my physio ‘I’m exhausted. I don’t feel I can keep up this season. I need my break.’”
“Something snapped when I took fourth place in Hungary. Like Michael Jordan’s ‘it was personal’ moment, I had that moment. Someone wrote something about me and I can’t let that define me. I need to be better because I’m the guy who will grab every opportunity that’s given to me.”
That’s when Obiena began going the extra mile in every event he participated in.
For eight tournaments, Obiena never placed outside the top three.
He won six out of eight meets including the Brussels Diamond League where he overtook world champion Armand “Mondo” Duplantis of Sweden.
He took home the silver in the ISTAF Berlin on 4 September and a bronze medal at the Athletissima in Lausanne last month.
Currently in the Philippines for a much-needed break, Obiena will soon find himself headed back to Europe to buckle down to work once again.
While he is resting for a bit and spending time with his family and girlfriend, Caroline Joyeux, the Olympic gold medal is still very well in his sights.
Next year, Obiena will have a lot of chances to qualify as he will be joining the Asian Indoor Athletics Championships in Kazakhstan, the Asian Championships in Thailand, the 32nd Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia in May, the 19th Asian Games in China and the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Hungary from 19 to 27 August.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Olympic Committee is eyeing to bring in top vaulters led by Duplantis to compete in a marquee event against Obiena next year.
Aside from Duplantis, also on the POC’s radar are world No. 2 Chris Nilsen of the United States and Rio 2016 Olympics gold medalist Thiago Braz of Brazil, who is Obiena’s training partner in Italy.
“The objective is to bring them here after the outdoor season’s over,” Obiena told POC president, Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino.
Tolentino readily agreed and the first order of battle was to choose a venue.
“The Picnic Grove here could be an ideal venue,” said Tolentino, referring to the favorite destination of local and foreign tourists in his native Tagaytay City.
The setup, according to Obiena, will be similar to those in Europe — a street venue where the runway, the box, crossbars and landing area are all portable.
“With the Taal Volcano as backdrop, what more could you ask for — a world-class pole vault action in one of the most picturesque tourist attractions in the country,” Tolentino said.
“Every jump will be postcard-perfect.”
The European outdoor season ends in early September and with the Asian Games in Huangzhou set on the same month next year, Obiena and Tolentino are looking at late September or early or mid-October as a potential date.