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Redemption beckons Olympic-bound Obiena

EJ Obiena emerges as the first Filipino to qualify in the Paris Olympics. Photo courtesy of EJ Obiena/Facebook

EJ Obiena emerged as the first Filipino to qualify for the Paris Olympics after posting 5.82 meters in the Stockholm Diamond League at the Stockholm Olympic Stadium in Sweden early Monday.

But the 27-year-old Obiena will not just simply compete in the Summer Games. He is also expected to redeem himself from a botched performance in the previous Olympics in Tokyo in 2021.

Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association secretary general Edward Kho said Obiena had already matured as an athlete compared to what he used to be in the previous Summer Games.

He said the Filipino superstar — the third-best pole vaulter in the world – knows when to push and when to pull in major international tournaments.

“Well, I think he has matured as a top-level world athlete. I can see in his performances that he will go all out. Comparing him to a singer, he knows when to hit those high notes,” Kho said in a phone conversation with Daily Tribune.

“I think the reason he is comfortable with achieving 5.82 meters in Sweden is because there’s the Asian Championships coming up. I think he is trying to save up his great performances in the Asian Championships and in the Asian Games.”

Against Armand Duplantis and some of the best pole vaulters in the world, Obiena was at his best.

He tallied 5.82 meters to hit the Olympic standard while finishing second behind Duplantis, who registered 6.05 meters.

Pal Haugen Lillefose of Norway took third place over Ben Broeders of Belgium via countback despite with 5.72 meters while Kurtis Marschall of Australia got fifth place via a countback over Thiago Braz of Brazil with 5.62 meters.

For bagging the silver medal and booking a return flight to the Olympics, Obiena also pocketed $6,000, or around P330,000, cash prize.

Obiena’s Olympic qualification is also a déjà vu of sorts.

In fact, Obiena also emerged as the first Filipino to advance to the Tokyo Olympics when he recorded 5.81 meters in a tournament in Italy on 3 September 2019.

But his Olympic debut didn’t go as planned as Obiena competed with a lot of distractions, prompting him to settle for forgettable 11th-place finish.

Now, with those distractions already a thing of the past, Obiena can now focus on redeeming himself and bidding to become the second Filipino to win an Olympic gold medal.

Kho said with Obiena’s recent performance, highlighted by a six-meter jump at the Sparebanken Vest Bergen Jump Challenge in Bergen, Norway, there is no doubt that he is really ripe for the Olympics.

“We are not really nervous or anxious about EJ hitting the standard early on because we saw him do it consistently. He already hit six meters, so what is 5.82 meters to six meters,” Kho said, adding that Obiena will see action in other major tourneys like the 2023 Asian Athletics Championships in Pattaya Thailand from 12 to 16 June and the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China from 23 September to 8 October.

 “I hope the athletes who are looking up to EJ or those using it as an inspiration to get greater heights should see the importance of winning at the right time at the right competition.”

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