ERNEST JOHN “EJ” OBIENA opens the indoor season on Thursday at the Internationales Springer-Meeting in Cottbus, Germany, where he will be vying against familiar foes who have become his pals in the small world-class men’s pole vault community.
The 27-year-old Obiena—who leapt to world No. 3 in 2022 following his bronze medal at the world championships in Eugene, Oregon, last July—faces challenges from two-time world champion Sam Kendricks, Belgium’s Ben Broaders, Poland’s Peter Lisek, China’s Huang Bokai and four others, at Cootbus where only men’s pole vault and women’s high jump are featured.
“Everyone at EJ’s camp is so excited to simply get him back in the game,” Obiena’s long-time confidante, Jim Lafferty, told BusinessMirror on Wednesday. “It’s been a long off-season, which started by his whirlwind visit back home in September which was a month of wall-to-wall activity.”
Obiena ended last year’s outdoor season with a gold medal leap of 5.81 meters at the Gala dei Castelli in Bellinzona, Switzerland. That was his sixth gold for the season that topped one silver and one bronze he reaped from other competitions in Europe.
Obiena got his long-sought vacation at home in September, bringing along his girlfriend, Caroline Joyeaux, a long and triple jumper from Germany.
He, however, didn’t have the luxury of staying longer for the holidays and had to head back to Formia, Italy, to continue training under the legendary Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov.
Besides aiming to break 6.0 meters to join an elite group of only 25 pole vaulters who have achieved the height, Obiena will also shoot for a second Olympics stint at Paris 2024.
To do that looks easier now for Obiena. He could either beat the qualifying standard of 5.82 meters—he holds the Asian record of 5.94 meters—or maintain or improve his world ranking.
Lafferty said he expects Obiena’s indoor campaign to go well with only the task of transporting his poles from one European country to another posing a menial challenge.
“It’s a very short indoor season and the schedule is uncertain as transporting his poles to some of the planned competitions such as Asian championships in Kazakhstan in February, is proving to be difficult,” Lafferty said.
“Fewer and fewer airlines are accepting to carry pole vault poles,” he added.