Barring any unforeseen circumstance, Asia’s best pole vaulter and Filipino superstar Ernest John Obiena is expected to deliver the Philippines’ first gold medal in the 19th Asian Games on Saturday, September 30.
Obiena, the overwhelming favorite to win the pole vault gold in the Asiad, is expected to obliterate the opposition in the event slated at 7:05 p.m. at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre.
“My aim is to win (in Hangzhou). That’s the goal,” said Obiena in a previous interview.
The 27-year-old Obiena, who regained the no. 2 rank in the world following his runner-up finish to world champion Arman “Mondo” Duplantis in the 2023 Diamond League in Eugene, Oregon almost two weeks ago, holds the Asian record of 6 meters, he twice achieved in Budapest last August and Norway last June.
Obiena, however, doesn’t own the Asian Games record. That distinction belongs to Japanese Seito Yamamoto, who leaped to a height of 5.75 meters during 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 leap 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.
“This is the opportunity for us Filipino athletes to show what we’ve got,” said Obiena, who 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 event.
“We are determined to contribute to the Philippine Team’s campaign. Our men and women are ready,” said athletics secretary general and team manager Edward Kho.
The only minor concern for Obiena, if it’s a worry at all, is jet lag.
“EJ is recovering from jet lag after arriving a few days ago from a competition in Oregon, USA. But he is a veteran. He will do what he has to do come tomorrow night’s finals in the pole vault,” said athletics chief Terry Capistrano.