Hangzhou—I guess the only question left now is, how high will EJ fly?
With the gold medal—which would be the Philippines’ first here—a virtual lock by Asia’s best pole vaulter, Ernest John Obiena tries to formalize his coronation as the 19th Asian Games’ champion on Saturday in 7:05 p.m. hostilities slated at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre.
To say that Obiena is the overwhelming favorite to win the pole vault gold in the Asiad is an understatement.
The 27-year-old Obiena holds the Asian record of 6 meters, he twice achieved in Budapest last August and Norway last June. In the Asian Games, expect Obiena to try to match, or even surpass his record.
Only two weeks ago, he leaped 5.82 meters in the 2023 Diamond League in Eugene, Oregon, where the only pole vaulter better than him was world champion Armand Duplantis.
The feat catapulted the Filipino superstar back to the no. 2 rank in the world.
“With good vibes, it’s sure for gold,” said Philippine Olympic Committee president Rep. Abraham Tolentino. “His competitions this year have prepared him well for the Asian Games, especially his 6.0 meters, which he cleared twice. Knowing EJ, and because he has yet to win an Asian Games gold medal, he’ll go for it.”
In the Asian Games, Obiena has an unfinished business that needs to be settled, especially against reigning champion Japanese Seito Yamamoto, who leaped to a height of 5.75 meters for the gold in the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games.
The Filipino pole vaulter, who was recovering from an ACL injury at that time, placed only 7th in that edition as he struggled to find any rhythm of sorts. He went on to jump just 5.45 meters.
Obiena will be aiming for payback against the 31-year-old Yamamoto, who according to Japan Running News, will be having another tour of duty for Japan in the Asiad. Yamamoto’s best showing this season, however, is just 5.60 he did in the L’Anneau-Halle d’athlétisme de Metz in France last February.
Yamamoto plus three Chinese pole vaulters will be in the field.
Obiena will also have a chance to end a three-decade medal drought by the country in the Asiad, where the last medal from athletics was won by Elma Muros, who bagged the bronze in the women’s long jump of the 1994 Hiroshima games.