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Obiena joins elite 6-meter vaulting club

EJ Obiena

For many years, clearing the six-meter mark in pole vault has been the exclusive domain of 23 athletes in Europe, the United States, and Australia.

On Saturday in Norway (Sunday in Manila), a Filipino joined that elite group.

Ernest John “EJ” Obiena’s seven-year quest finally bore fruit as he jumped 6.0 meters to earn the gold medal in the Bergen Jump Challenge in Norway and become the 24th pole vaulter to join the exclusive club.

The 27-year-old Obiena, who has been toiling in Formia, Italy ahead of this moment, went on to set new Asian and national records with his feat.

“It all started with a dream to jump over 5m and set the National Record to now be the 24th person of all time to go over the 6m barrier and the first ever Asian/Filipino,” said Obiena, who was emotional after the completion of the competition, in his message to fans on Facebook.

Obiena’s performance allowed him to join world no. 1 Armand Duplantis among the few who have leaped six meters and beyond.

Coached by Vitaly Petrov, Obiena’s previous highest jump was at 5.94 meters, which he set when he bagged a bronze medal in the World Athletics Championship in July 2022.

“It took a few moments to sink in. But when it did, tears began to fall, there was no greater shoulder to cry on than my coach, Vitaliy. Couldn’t have done it without you,” added Obiena.

KC Lightfoot of the United States, whose highest jump is 6.07 meters, also leaped to a 6-meter height, but settled for silver via countback, having done it in two tries.

Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Chris Nilsen of the USA, another six-meter specialist on a good day, snared the bronze at 5.88m.

Obiena, the third pole vaulter in this outdoor season to make the 6-meter height, had daydreamed of reaching the mark when he first went to Formia to train under Petrov in 2016.

Duplantis, who holds the world record at 6.27 meters, took the height of 6.11 meters last June 4 in Hengelo.

Lightfoot went up to 6.07 last June 2 in Nashville, improving from his personal best of 6.05.

Obiena overcame a bad start after he fouled on his first attempt at 5.53 meters before he went perfect by hurdling 5.76m, 5.82m, 5.94m, and ultimately, 6m, all in single attempts.

Earlier, Obiena went home with the bronze medal with his 5.72-meter performance at the Irena Szewinska Memorial in Poland.

There, Nilsen took the gold at 5.92 meters, with Piotr Lisek of Poland taking the silver at 5.82 meters.

Obiena will continue training in Norway to see action in the Oslo Bislett Games on June 15.

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