Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Asia’s top pole vaulter and Filipino pride EJ Obiena will finally assume the duty of flag bearer for Team Pilipinas in the 31st Southeast Asian Games — a role he was supposed to do, but eventually, let go during the Tokyo Olympics.
Obiena arrived in Hanoi from Formia, Italy on Wednesday, just in time for the opening ceremonies on Thursday at the My Dinh National Stadium for the 31st edition of these games.
The 26-year-old Obiena, the world’s sixth-best pole vaulter but Asia’s best with a World Athletics score of 1374, was nominated as the Philippines’ flag-bearer, together with Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz, but the weightlifting superstar decided it should be athletics’ pride.
“It’s a bigger honor kasi because Ate Hidi (Diaz) said it should be me,” said an excited Obiena upon arrival at the Noi Bai International Airport.
Obiena was supposed to be Team Philippines’ Tokyo games flag-bearer but had to step down from the honor as his arrival schedule posed a conflict with the guidelines set by the organizing committee, which said flag bearers must be in Tokyo 48 hours before the opening ceremonies. Obiena’s arrival was on the day of the opening rites.
Flag-bearing duties are reserved for the best athlete/s of a country and Obiena’s appointment in the SEA Games is a validation of his vast accomplishments in the sport as a world-class athlete.
That is why Obiena would be shooting for no less than the gold medal in the pole vault, where he is the overwhelming favorite with his personal best and Philippine record of 5.91 meters, achieved during the Meeting de Paris at the Stade Charlety, Paris on Aug. 28 last year. This is nearly half a meter higher than the SEA Games record of 5.45 meters he himself set in winning the gold during the Philippine SEA Games in 2019.
“I’m representing athletes competing in the SEA Games, but also 100 million Filipinos back home,” said Obiena in vowing to make his countrymen proud.
Competitions in the SEA Games, with the theme “For a stronger South East Asia,” are taking place in Hanoi and 11 nearby localities until May 23.