EJ Obiena Is Setting A Golden Age of Filipino Sport
Vogue Man

EJ Obiena Is Ushering In A Golden Age of Filipino Sport

Despite facing stiff competition, EJ Obiena is steadfast on his track to the Paris summer games. “Being in a constant grind is immeasurable,” he says. “And I hope by Paris I should be able to put them into fruition and use all the knowledge that I have, and hopefully bring back a medal.”

This 2024 marks a century of Philippine participation in the Olympic Games. Ironically, the first time the country sent athletes to the Olympiad in 1924, Paris, France was also the host city. It took almost a month for that first contingent of Filipino athletes to travel from Manila to Paris a century ago. It would take 97 years before a Filipino would finally win Olympic gold.

In the century since that first Paris Olympiad, a new generation of Filipinos has been training and preparing their minds and bodies in the hopes of repeating what weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz accomplished at the Tokyo Olympics. One of them is Ernest John (“EJ”) Obiena, the Tondo-born pole vaulter who has dominated the sport in recent seasons.

The biggest obstacle

Photographed by Modesto III Banzon for the July 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

What has not been said already about Obiena? He has dominated Asian competition in recent years and has consistently been ranked #2 globally, as per the World Athletics Organization. Since his participation in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, he’s seen a flurry of gold medals, including setting the new Asian record of six meters. Marking a golden age for his chosen discipline of pole vaulting, his achievements position him as a formidable contender in global athletics, making his pursuit of gold at the Paris Olympics.

His main competition also happens to be a friend in Sweden’s Armand Duplantis, whose performance has pushed the bar higher than anyone else in history. He’s broken the men’s pole vault record on eight separate occasions, clearing 6.24 meters at an opening Diamond League meet in China last April. 

Photographed by Modesto III Banzon for the July 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.
Photographed by Modesto III Banzon for the July 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

“He [Duplantis] has lifted the sport to a level it’s never been,” Obiena says of his rival. “And he’s pulling everyone with him. That’s the good side of it. The bad side of it is that jumping as high as six meters now would not mean a win.” 

Despite facing fierce competition from Duplantis, Obiena remains steadfast and resolute in his pursuits. His unwavering determination drives him to challenge the heights set, proving his dedication to excelling even more. “I’m a competitor, I want to win,” Obiena quickly replies. “Every time I step on the track, I want to win. Having [Duplantis] in the picture makes things more difficult, but at the same time, sweeter as well.”

The Olympic dream

Photographed by Modesto III Banzon for the July 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

After a run at this year’s fast-approaching Summer Games, what he’ll undoubtedly take home with him will be more than medals, but an ushering of a new era of Filipino sporting, inspired by his resilience in the face of his sole hurdle in Duplantis. 

And there is hope yet. Diaz changed the entire field of Philippine sports when she brought home silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics and went even further with her Tokyo Games gold. Her win has sparked something in the athlete: the idea that Olympic gold isn’t only a faraway dream, but a very possible outcome in his endeavors. 

He bares that the experience he has gained from the Tokyo Olympics, as well as other pole vault competitions, have allowed him to be calmer heading to Paris. “Hopefully being in a constant grind with these world-class pole vaulters is immeasurable, and I hope by Paris I should be able to put them into fruition and use all the knowledge that I have and hopefully bring back a medal.”

This month, Vogue Philippines pays tribute to stories of grit, determination, and the pursuit of excellence. Below, meet more of the athletes who continue to shatter the glass ceiling of sports.

CHAMPIONS: OLYMPIANS AND SPORTSMEN

Vogue Man Philippines: July 2024 Issue

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By JASON INOCENCIO. Photographs by MODESTO III BANZON. Fashion Director: PAM QUIÑONES.Vogue Man Editor DANYL GENECIRAN. Athlete: EJ Obiena. Art Director: Jann Pascua. Producer: Anz Hizon. Special thanks to VMG Asia
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