EJ Obiena leapt to greater heights in 2023.
Over 12 months, the 28-year-old Tondo-born pole vaulter amassed impressive credentials.
His highlights were, of course, winning gold in three major international tournaments in record-breaking fashion.
He made history anew in the World Athletics Championships, becoming the first Filipino to join pole vault’s ultra-elite 6.00-meter club. He then capped off the year by finishing as the no. 2 ranked athlete in his field.
Obiena was also the first to book a berth in the 2024 Paris Olympics – the first Filipino bet to do so – with a silver-medal effort in a tournament in Sweden, just a day after the qualifiers for next year’s Olympiad began.
These glowing achievements truly are hard to ignore, especially in a year when many firsts were recorded in Philippine sports history.
On account of this, Obiena has been chosen as the sole recipient of the Athlete of the Year honor at the upcoming San Miguel Corporation (SMC)-PSA Awards Night.
Gilas Pilipinas ending 61 years of frustration by bagging the basketball gold in the Asian Games, the Filipinas national team scoring a historic win in its FIFA Women’s World Cup debut, and the pair of Margarita ‘Meggie’ Ochoa and Annie Ramirez achieving a double gold for jiu-jitsu in the Hangzhou Asiad, were all considered for the prestigious award.
But Obiena got the nod of the majority from the country’s oldest media organization composed of print and online sportswriters headed by its president, Nelson Beltran, sports editor of The Philippine STAR.
ArenaPlus will be presenting the blue-ribbon event with the Philippine Sports Commission, Philippine Olympic Committee, PLDT/Smart, and MILO as major sponsors. Also backing the event are the Philippine Basketball Association, Premier Volleyball League, Rain or Shine, and 1-Pacman Partylist Rep. Mikee Romero.
Obiena, son of track and field athletes Emerson and Jeanette Uy, is the first track athlete to be honored with the prestigious award since long jumper Marestella Torres in 2009.
He emerged as the undisputed pole vault king in Asia in the year just passed. Obiena set new records in the Cambodia Southeast Asian Games (5.65 meters), the Asian Athletics Championships (5.91 meters) in Thailand, and later, the Hangzhou Asian Games (5.90 meters) on the way to completing a sweep of all three gold medals.
Obiena then raised the ante by becoming the first Filipino pole vaulter to win a silver medal in the World Athletics Championship in Budapest. He cleared 6.0 meters in another podium finish following his breakthrough bronze medal in the 2022 edition in Oregon.
Earlier, he finally joined pole vault’s ultra-elite 6.00-meter club and won the gold in the Sparebanken Vest Bergen Jump Challenge in Norway, becoming the first and only Asian athlete to achieve the feat.
In between, he also qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics by clearing the bar at 5.82 meters in the Diamond League-Bauhaus Galan in Sweden and won numerous other tournaments during the season.
By the end of 2023, Obiena shot from no. 6 previously to the world’s second-best pole vaulter behind Armand ‘Mondo’ Duplantis.