Sports

EJ Obiena Becomes the First Filipino to Win a Medal at World Athletic Championships

EJ Obiena makes history. Again.
IMAGE JEROME ASCAÑO
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Filipino pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena set another national record for the Philippines when he beat his own personal best at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Obiena set a new Asian record in the men’s pole vault when he cleared 5.94 meters, securing the bronze medal at the competition. 

This is the first time the Philippines has ever received a medal at the World Athletics Championships. 

Obiena achieved it all while sporting colorful socks, a style trend he’s become known for. This time, it was the Cookie Monster instead of Spongebob. 

Swedish pole vaulter Armand Duplantis scored first place and the gold medal with 6.21 meters, while American athlete Chris Nilsen took home the silver with 5.94 meters. 

At only 26 years old, EJ Obiena is undoubtedly the best pole vaulter in Philippine history and Asian history. He won his last gold medals at the 2022 Southeast Asian Games, 2019 Asian Championships, and 2019 Universiade. Obiena placed 11th at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but has since worked his way to sixth place in the global real-time rankings. Obiena is preparing to take home another medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics. 

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Despite his sporting success, Obiena’s career has been mired in controversy and roadblocks. Just before he made history at the World Athletics Competition, EJ Obiena testing positive for COVID-19, which almost derailed him from the competition. And just after his recovery, Obiena was detained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for 12 hours on the suspicion of escaping charges in the Philippines. His detention was the result of a false whistleblower tip, but the U.S. authorities released Obiena and formally apologized to the athlete. 

Obiena admitted that the incident was “unfortunate” and almost “threw him off,” but the pole vaulter went on to beat his personal record at the competition. 

The false whistleblower tip hinted at Obiena’s supposed embezzlement case, which turned out to be fake. In 2021, the world-class athlete became embroiled in a dispute with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) and its former head, Philip Juico, who falsely accused Obiena of embezzlement. The accusations were a hit to Obiena’s reputation, which was eventually cleared when the Commission on Audit found him innocent of all accusations. PATAFA’s crusade against Obiena ended with Juico being declared persona non grata by the Philippine Olympic Committee. While Obiena feuded with his association, he received support from the public and from numerous politicians. 

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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