In the months leading to the Tokyo Olympics, Ernest John “EJ” Obiena stayed in the best shape that he can be.
For 17 months now since he went home to see action in the 30th Southeast Asian Games, the 25-year-old Obiena never stopped preparing and competing while in Europe.
And when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and caused the postponement of the Olympics in 2020, Obiena got the best help in his quest for the gold medal while in Italy’s Olympic Committee training center in Formia.
Located south of Rome at the edge of Italy’s Lazio region, the training center boasts of a great-looking campus, running track, indoor track, gym and sports facilities that host professional athletes from Italy and around the world.
This facility, which includes the only 150 indoor meter track in Italy and an indoor pole vaulting facility, helped Obiena develop his vaulting techniques while under the wings of legendary coach Vitaly Petrov.
“I’ll say that I’ve been in the best shape for a pretty long time. I mean, what can I say, I’m happy where I’m at,” said Obiena, who is in the final stretches of his training before leaving for Tokyo.
Final stretch of competition
Last July 4, Obiena cleared a height of 5.82 meters to settle for fourth place in the Stockholm leg of the 2021 Wanda Diamond League series at the Olympic Stadium in Sweden.
With world record Armand Duplantis present in the field once again, the Obiena made it past the Olympic Qualifying Standard of 5.80 meters for the fifth time.
It took Obiena two attempts to clear the height, before making an attempt for a Philippine record. Unfortunately missed hitting the 5.92 meter mark on all of his three tries.
The Wanda Diamond League was just one of the few tournaments that he was not able to get a podium finish after he has managed to claim eight podium finishes in the 10 events he has joined since 2020.
If it was any consolation, Obiena beat world’s no. 3 Piotr Lisek of Poland and world’s no. 5, American Christopher Nilsen.
And Obiena has been getting a boost on his level of confidence whenever he competes against the top-ranked Duplantis.
During his last encounter with the Swede, Duplantis went on to create ripples, by ripping the meet mark of 6.01 meters he set last year with a leap of 6.02.
American Sam Kendricks and Frenchman Rene Lavilannie had a 5.92 for second and third place, respectively, but Kendrick claimed the bronze on the countback.
Prior to this tournament, he won the gold medal in 2021 Taby Stavhoppsgala Street Pole Vault in Sweden, where Obiena used a wornout pole, maybe for the last time, when he and two others hit the 5.80-meter mark in the Sweden meet.
His effort, which was done on his first attempt, allowed him to beat his training partner and Olympic champion Thiago Braz of Brazil and American bet Andrew Irwin for first place.
Braz and Irwin settled for second and third, respectively.
“I would say that these competitions helped me sharpen my competitive skills and be able to know how I am able to improve myself. I think every athlete can be different in training and in competition,” said Obiena.
The Filipino pole vaulter’s gold-medal performance was below the Philippine outdoor mark he set a few days before, when he cleared 5.87 meters in the Irena Szwewinska Memorial/Bydgoszcz Cup in Poland to shatter the national record for the third time in since 2019.
The feat earned Obiena the silver medal after he finished behind American pole vaulter Nilsen, who made it in 5.92 meters.
“I’ll take those wins any day. And of course, it gives me an additional boost on how I feel going into Tokyo, knowing that I’m going toe to toe with these guys,” added Obiena.
With six days go before the Olympics, Obiena is safely perched at no. 6 in the world rankings of the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Reigning champion Braz used to be in no. 6, but the Brazilian has since slipped to no. 7 after owning 6th spot for 70 weeks.
“The Olympics is very near and no one can predict the results, but rest assured that the fighting spirit is very much alive. We will proudly not just represent the Philippines, but fight for its glory,” said Obiena on his Facebook page.