//Spotlight
EJ Obiena in the 2023 Asian Games

6 Highlights From EJ Obiena’s Historic 2023 Season

From the Southeast Asian Games in May to the Asian Games in September, EJ Obiena has a number of highlights to remember 2023 by.

EJ Obiena has concluded his 2023 season. And if you have been paying attention throughout the entire year, you surely know that it has been one that has stolen headlines, broken records, and reached new feats. Competition after competition, the Filipino has been traveling all over the world, carrying the Philippine flag, and bringing pride to an entire nation with every jump.

From the Southeast Asian Games in May to the Asian Games in September, here are six of EJ’s biggest highlights from an incredible and memorable 2023 season.

1. SEA Games three-peat

EJ Obiena entered the 32nd Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Cambodia as the reigning gold medalist for the pole vault event. In 2019, he won the men’s pole vault gold medal and set a new met record of 5.45 meters. The following edition saw the same story — EJ set a new record of 5.46 meters in a single attempt, finishing with another SEA Games gold. Thus, coming into 2023, his goal was clear from the beginning: to defend his Southeast Asian title.

Rising up to clear 5.65 meters, EJ Obiena claimed another SEA Games gold medal and set another competition record for the third time in a row. This was just a sign of more successes to come.

2. Joining the six-meter club

As a very niche sport, the pole vault community is one that is already relatively small and very tight-knit. But the six-meter club — a term that members of the community use to refer to athletes who have been able to clear six meters — is all the more exclusive. EJ Obiena is now a part of this elite club.

The Filipino Olympian cleared six meters for the first time at the Bergen Jump Challenge in Norway, becoming the first-ever Asian and first-ever Filipino to reach this milestone.

Filipino pole vaulter Ernest "EJ" Obiena prepares for the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China
(Photo credit: EJ Obiena on Instagram)

However, despite this being a huge feat in and of itself, EJ acknowledged that this number was just another step in his journey, and recognized that his work as an athlete is still far from over. “Still a lot of work ahead and still a long season. Just happy and proud to be part of the 6m Club,” he shared on his social media pages after the achievement.

3. Headed for Paris 2024

Just a couple of months after proving his dominance in the region of Southeast Asia, EJ Obiena moved on to an opportunity to take on the world by qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

In the Stockholm Diamond League-Bauhaus Galan in Sweden, Obiena cleared the Olympic qualifying benchmark of 5.82 meters, giving him a silver medal finish behind the world record holder, Armand Duplantis. With this performance, he booked his ticket to the Paris Olympics next year, becoming the first Filipino to qualify for the upcoming Summer Games. This will mark his second Olympics appearance, where he will be looking to use his momentum from this year to improve on his 11th-place finish in the Tokyo edition.

4. Asian Athletics Championships

The 25th Asian Athletics Championships was another chance for EJ Obiena to bring his international experience to the continental stage. He did not disappoint.

Filipino pole vaulter Ernest "EJ" Obiena at the King Baudouin Stadium for the Allianz Memorial Van Damme competition
(Photo credit: EJ Obiena on Instagram)

The Filipino pole vault champion topped the pack in the Asian Athletics Championships as he cleared 5.91 meters. With this, he landed another gold medal to add to his ever-growing collection and defended his Asian title from his victory in 2017, making him a back-to-back champion in this competition as well.

5. Second in the world

In case you did not know, EJ Obiena already sat at third in the Men’s Pole Vault World Rankings when he became a three-time SEA Games gold medalist, joined the six-meter club, and qualified for the Olympics. To be in the top three in the world is already a big deal, especially for a sport dominated by athletes from Western countries. But EJ is proving that Filipinos belong on the world stage, too.

In July this year, EJ earned 1,432 ranking points which saw him jump one spot higher to overtake Chris Nilsen and claim the second rank in the world. Now, he is currently World No. 2 in the Pole Vault Rankings, just behind Olympic gold medalist Armand Duplantis.

6. The Asian Games

To close his 2023 season, which has already been laden with milestone after milestone, EJ Obiena had one more task: the Asian Games.

Heading into the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, EJ already faced the pressure of not just winning a gold medal, but simply reaching the podium, as the last time a Filipino won a medal in the Asian Games for a track and field event was back in 1994. Adding to the pressure was the fact that more than a week of events at the 19th Asian Games had already gone by, and no Filipino athlete had yet won a gold medal.

Enter the World No. 2 pole vaulter.

Filipino pole vaulter Ernest "EJ" Obiena wins the Philippines' first gold medal in the 19th Asian Games after clearing 5.90 meters and setting a new meet record
(Photo credit: EJ Obiena on Instagram)

As expected, EJ Obiena won the Philippines’ first gold medal in the 19th Asian Games after he cleared 5.9 meters. With this, he uplifted the country’s standing in the Games, ended the track and field medal drought, and set a new meet record.

“What a privilege it was to deliver the country’s first gold in the 19th Asian Games and break the Championship Record,” EJ shared on his social media post after another successful campaign. “Now we officially close this season with a smile.”

2023 has indeed been EJ’s year. And at only 27 years old with a ticket to the upcoming Olympics, this is far from the last time we will be seeing him rising up and carrying the Philippine flag with pride.

Banner image from EJ Obiena on Instagram.


Related Stories:

EJ Obiena: On Wearing the Flag and the Olympic Dream

When in Formia: EJ Obiena to Italy and Beyond

EXCLUSIVE: Which Medal is EJ Obiena Proudest of and What’s Next?