EJ on beating Duplantis:I do think so


FRIENDS off the field and rivals on it.

That’s how Ernest John “EJ” Obiena and men’s pole vault wonder Armand “Mondo” Duplantis treat each other.

“He’s a good friend,” Obiena said of two-time world champion and record holder Duplantis, who always congratulates him each time they face each other in a competition or Obiena’s on the podium and he’s not.

“He is an amazing athlete and great person, all praises for him,” Obiena said. “He elevated the sports to a certain level, never imagined by anybody at this point.”

Obiena, Duplantis and the rest of the world’s elite in men’s pole vault are buddies. They train together, share jokes together but buckle down to serious work when they’re competing—against each other.

And it’s no wonder that all of them, Obiena included, has painted an imaginary target on Duplantis’s back, something the Swede fully knows.

“Do I think I can beat him [Duplantis]?” the 27-year-old Obiena said. “I do think so that’s why I’m still training…but I have a lot of things to work on—and we should.”

“All I think about is trying to improve and close that gap,” he added.

Close the gap means Obiena must go over 6.0 meters, a height he already cleared twice, to be able to pull the rug from under Duplantis’s 6.23 meters world record he set last month.

Obiena came close to beating beating the 23-year-old Duplantis during the world championships in Budapest last August. He cleared 6.0 meters on his second try but Duplantis was in his element and jumped 6.10m.

Duplantis won gold and Obiena got silver, the best finish by a Filipino and an Asian in the worlds.

Obiena has no plans looking at Duplantis from any other perspective except from a point of view that he’s a motivation.

“He elevated pole vaulting to a higher level,” Obiena said.

Obiena’s been a consistent podium finisher this season. He’s been on the podium 22 times in 24 tournaments he competed in, including his gold medal-clinching and Asian Games record performance in Hangzhou two weeks ago.

He’s still in town for a brief vacation while tending to lucrative sponsorship deals while smiling his way to the bank with millions of bonuses tucked in his belt.

A Dubai stop is on his schedule before he returns to home base Formia in Italy to reconcile with his world championship team led by the legendary Ukranian coach and trainer Vitaly Petrov.

Six meters is on Obiena’s mind as he embarks on an almost yearlong preparation for his second straight Olympic stint in Paris.

“Pole vaulting is a complicated sport that’s why you need all the adrenaline so you can really jump bigger stick in training, it’s hard,” he said. “Maybe if I do jump 6 meters in training [most of the time], maybe I can jump 6.23…so let’s see.”

Obiena’s the first Filipino to qualify for Paris after he cleared the Olympic men’s pole vault standard of 5.82m last July 2 in Bauhaus Galan, Sweden.

Obiena already beat Duplantis twice this season—in the Monaco Diamond League last July 22 when he placed third with 5.82m and Duplantis in fourth with 5.72m and last September at the Brussels Diamond League, where the three-time Southeast Asian champion won gold-he cleared 5.91m in his third try with Duplantis settling for silver at 5.81m.

But while Obiena’s off the training field, he also kept himself busy with his advocacies. He partnered with Katapult Digital, a marketing technology agency, to auction his kits like shoes, track suits and jerseys which he used in the Hangzhou Asian Games, world championships and the Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam and Cambodia.

The proceeds of the auction will go to kids who are dreaming to be a pole vaulter like him.

“I believe the Filipinos can win at global level but we can’t do this alone,” Obiena said. “The Philippine pole vaulting community holds much potential. All stakeholders and supporters need to band together to maximize the possibilities.”

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