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Obiena faces pressure test

HANGZHOU, China — EJ Obiena will be competing with caution when the athletics competition of the 19th Asian Games fires off on 30 September at the Hangzhou Olympic Centre Stadium here.

Obiena, the second-best pole vaulter in the world, admitted that there is a pressure on him to perform, especially with other Asian athletes looking to claim his scalp.

Aside from being the holder of the Asian record of six meters, Obiena is also crowned as the best track and field athlete in the continent after a series of victories in the international circuit.

Obiena topped the Asian athletics rankings with 1443 points with javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra of India (1429) and hurdler Shunsuke Izumiya of Japan (1417) lurking closely behind.

Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar (high jump) placed fourth overall with 1403 points and Masatora Kawano of Japan (35-kilometer walk) wound up fifth (1383).

“Many people clap me on the back for being Asia’s No. 1 track and field athlete. I view this differently,” said the 27-year-old Obiena, who will join skateboarder Margielyn Didal in serving as the flag bearer of Team Philippines in the opening ceremonies of the Games on Saturday.

“It’s a huge sense of honor and responsibility. In my profession, I am a visible symbol of the best from the amazing continent of Asia.”

Based in Italy under the tutelage of renowned Ukranian coach Vitaly Petrov, Obiena recently placed second in the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary behind world record holder Armand “Mondo’’ Duplantis of Sweden.

Another silver finish at the Diamond League finals last week again won by Duplantis in Oregon, United States pushed Obiena to the No. 2 spot in the world rankings behind the Swede.

“I must not let Asia down. I must go into these international competitions and showcase the talent and capability of us all. I must also conduct myself with honor and dignity and never tarnish the greatness of Asia,’’ Obiena said.

After defending his Asian championships title two months ago in Bangkok, Thailand, Obiena is looking to close out his season with a gold medal in the Asiad, the only continental title lacking in his collection after placing outside of the medal rankings in Jakarta in 2018.

“One more to go. I need to own this and understand that I have a target on my back. The pressure is building up but that’s a privilege. I have to be committed in every jump,’’ said Obiena, the first, and so far, the only Filipino qualifier in the Paris Olympics next year.

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