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MIGHT AS WELL JUMP Obiena breathes down Duplantis’ neck as rivalry heats up


‘I’m really happy about all these consecutive golds. I don’t know where this one ranks but I’m happy to keep winning.’

Ernest John Obiena continues to show he’s within reach of the Olympic dream even with Armand Duplantis standing in the way. | Antonin Thuillier/agence France-presse

As Ernest John Obiena continues to normalize six-meter leaps, the Philippines’ pole vault pride is slowly but surely shrinking the distance between him and Sweden high-flyer Armand Duplantis.

And that of a gold medal in Paris as well.

Obiena on Saturday soared to six meters before the same guys he hopes to beat in next year’s Olympics. That was enough for silver medal. And that was enough for the meantime.

Duplantis retained his world men’s pole vault title in the World Athletics Championships in Budapest on Saturday, going close on three occasions in a bid to better his own world record.

Duplantis finished with a best vault of 6.10m. Obiena took silver, while Australian Kurtis Marschall and American Chris Nilsen shared bronze (5.95m).

It was Obiena’s second six-meter effort since achieving it in Norway last June. The Filipino Asian champion has since remarked things are going to be even better from then on.

Obiena would later bare on his social media that he caught the coronavirus two weeks before the Budapest, affecting his preparation.

“I might just have the best season of my career but come the major championship unfortunately I got sick,” Obiena said on his video. “It’s tough and we’re moving forward.”

Remarkably it was a sixth successive title for the 23-year-old US-born Swede: He was European, world outdoor and world indoor champion in 2022 and Olympic and European indoor winner in 2021.

“I’m really happy about all these consecutive golds. I don’t know where this one ranks but I’m happy to keep winning,” Duplantis said.

“This was maybe the craziest atmosphere I’ve ever competed in so it meant a lot to be able to turn on a pole vault show for them.

“I felt a bit of pressure as defending champion but I’m glad to come through it. It feels pretty good to be on top again.”

Duplantis sailed clear at the opening mark of 5.55m, skipped 5.75 and went over with a lot to spare at 5.85.

Only four other vaulters from the 12-strong field went clear at 5.85m: France’s Thibaut Collet (for a personal best), Marschall, Obiena and Nilsen, the latter on the third time of asking.

Obiena, Collet and Nilsen then cleared 5.90m as Duplantis opted not to compete at that height.

Marschall failed once at that height, but skipped successfully straight to a personal best of 5.95. Collet mirrored the Australian’s strategy as the bar was raised to the mythical 6.00m mark.

Duplantis flew over that height easily, as did Obiena on his second effort for what was an Asian record.

But it proved more problematic for the remaining vaulters, Collet first out to maintain France’s medal-less championships, swiftly followed by Marschall and Nilsen.

The bar was raised to 6.05m, posing no problem for Duplantis. Obiena, however, failed with his first attempt and opted to have the bar go up to 6.10m.

US-born Swede Duplantis made no mistake, showing real emotion on landing for the first time in realisation that gold was likely his.

That became a reality after Obiena failed in his bid at that height.

The question left was whether Duplantis would try to better his own world record of 6.22m, set indoors in France in February.

He went close on his three bids but was still assured of a second world gold.

“I try not to set limits and barriers on myself and once I started to realise a world record was possible I tried not to see it as a record just as another height I can achieve,” Duplantis said.

“But today never really felt like a world record competition. It was more a pure competition and that’s how it can be. It was great fun. I’d spent a lot of energy by the time it got up to 6.23m.”

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