For EJ Obiena, 2023 has come full circle.
The season started on a rousing note in France and will end with a ticket to the biggest sports stage in the same country for the following year.
But it was not all a bed of roses.
Obiena set his season in motion with a win in the Perche en Or meet in Roubaix with a jump of 5.82 meters – ahead of Yao Jie of China, who registered 5.75 meters.
More successes followed, including title-retention victories in the indoor season in the Orlen and Copernicus Cups in Poland, and, of course, the Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia – with a new Games record to boot.
Speaking of records and standards, the University of Santo Tomas product also broke through with a new Asian Games record of 5.90 meters for his first-ever gold medal in the said quadrennial event.
Such a feat was also the first gold medal in athletics in 37 years since Lydia de Vega’s 100-meter conquest in the Seoul Asiad and the first athletics medal of any color in 29 years since Elma Muros’ bronze in the long jump competitions of the 1994 Hiroshima Games.
Obiena earlier ruled the Asian Athletics Championships – once more, in record fashion, with a new mark of 5.91 meters in Bangkok, Thailand.
However, the most significant of these new milestones was the 2022 Worlds bronze medalist breaking the six-meter barrier after winning the Bergen Jump Challenge in Norway in June.
That feat has made him the undisputed best Asian pole vaulter of all time after being the only athlete from the vast continent to breach the said height.
Fueled by such achievement and following successes in the Asian meets, Obiena went into the 2023 Worlds in high spirits.
However, for the second straight year, the athletics star succumbed to the COVID-19 virus.
Days after achieving the country’s first Athletics Worlds silver medal, Obiena himself revealed that attaining it in the newly built National Athletics Centre in Budapest, Hungary was far from easy.
“Life is like a rose… it is beautiful, but it also comes with thorns,” the 27-year-old athlete wrote on his social media accounts in August.
“Just two weeks ago, the thorns got to me. I was sick with COVID, losing almost two weeks of intensive training, and starting to question why I faced these challenges.”
Still, Obiena believed that these obstacles contributed to his resilience when it came to game time, similar to how he overcame issues leading to the Worlds last year.
He stated, “Perhaps I would never have won the silver medal without the thorns of COVID and sickness. Thorns toughen you up and make you appreciate the beauty of the rose.”
Nonetheless, just like four years ago, Obiena, just the previous month, became the first Filipino who booked a ticket into the succeeding Summer Olympics – with exactly the required 5.82-meter jump in the Bauhaus-GALAN meet in Stockholm, Sweden, just behind hometown bet and currently the world’s best, Armand Duplantis.
With perhaps his best year to date, Obiena will look into the coming year with optimism and determination to capture a possible biggest breakthrough—an Olympic gold.
Safe to say, 2023 was truly Obiena’s year.