By KRISTEL SATUMBAGA
EJ Obiena kept his Olympic medal bid alive on Saturday after barging into the pole vault finals of the Tokyo Games at the Olympic Track Stadium.
Obiena finished inside the Top 12 after clearing 5.75 meters on his third attempt to join fellow qualifiers that include world record holder Armand Duplantis of Sweden, reigning Olympic champion Thiago Braz of Brazil, United States champion Chris Nilsen and 2016 Rio Olympics silver medalist Renaud Lavillenie.
Obiena skipped the opening height of 5.30m by going directly to 5.50m, clearing it effortlessly. He also had little difficulty clearing 5.65m.
The 25-year-old Tondo native, however, encountered some challenges at 5.75m. In his second attempt, he failed to make the launch and just crossed under the bar for an automatic failed attempt.
But the Philippine record holder quickly regained his composure in his final try, clearing the bar with more room to spare and then shouting, “MIND STRONG!” after his successful attempt.
In a Facebook post shortly after his competition, Obiena admitted nerves got in the way but he was able to overcome it.
“Thank you for all your prayers, after some nerve-wracking moments, I made it to the finals… Thank you Lord for listening to our prayers!” he wrote.
In a separate interview, Obiena said he felt sluggish during the competition, which he found strange.
“I didn’t feel like myself until the bar moved at 5.75m at first attempt. Then I moved back to my coach, and I don’t want to be very negative about it,” he said.
Also clearing 5.75m and advancing to the medal round were United States’ KC Lightfoot, Australia’s Kurtis Marschall, Greece’s Emmanouil Karalis and Bo Kanda Lita Baehre, Dutch Menno Vloom and Poland’s Piotr Lisek.
Germany’s Oleg Zernikel, Turkey’s Ersu Sasma and Great Britain’s Harry Coppell also made the cut with their 5.65m performances.
Finals will be on the evening of Aug. 3.
Obiena said he will talk to his coach, Ukrainian Vitaly Petrov, for their game plan in the finals.
“I know he’s gonna be mad right now for what I did. I didn’t follow some of his calls, and I was struggling mentally, then I didn’t feel that confident. If I have another chance, then I’m gonna make it,” he said.