It was a baptism of fire that reminded us a little too much of Hidilyn Diaz's own hardships, including the red-tagging matrix episode. But like Diaz, Obiena came out of this controversy stronger, if a little scorched. Since then, the pole vaulter has been making strides in his career, no doubt fueled by the frustrations of the entire debacle.
After the issue was formally resolved by the Commission on Audit in March 2022, Obiena became the third-highest-ranking pole vaulter in the world when he achieved his all-time best score at the World Championships in July, landing in third place with 5.94 meters, the highest any Philippine or Asian pole vaulter in history has ever cleared. At the same event, he bested world record-holder Armand Duplantis, which we can only hope is a foreshadowing for the Paris Olympics.
At the peak of the issue, quitting did cross his mind.
"Putting it frankly, I wanted to quit. I wanted to stop. I didn't see that there was a future me in track and field. Then these offers came in," shared Obiena.
By offers, he meant citizenship offers from countries that saw his raw potential and offered him citizenship along with complete support, which is priceless in the world of sports.
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"It is a less challenging path to take. And I think it made a lot more sense to represent countries that are willing to go through the hell of fighting for me," said Obiena. "Did it cross my mind? Yes, definitely. Did I ever say okay, I'm going to move? No."
It might have been the easier way out, and it might have provided him with opportunities that he didn't have here in the Philippines, but it was never about his personal gains. Pole vaulting is an individual sport, but all athletes are part of a team—one that embodies the dream to win.