Ernest John Obiena will not only defend his Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) title, the world’s No. 5 pole vaulter also gets to wave the Philippine red-white-and-blue during the fast-approaching opening rites of the Games early next month.
“It’s an honor,’’ said Obiena, who was recently embroiled in a war of words with his mother federation and will again grab the spotlight during the traditional parade of athletes. “I was heading home after training here in Formia [Italy] when I received the message.’’
The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) named Obiena as Team Philippines’ flag-bearer in the traditional parade of nations of the 31st edition of the Games on May 12 at the MNy Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Obiena was also supposed to carry the flag during the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics last year, but scheduling kinks on his arrival in Japan didn’t make it possible. Instead, middleweight pug Eumir Marcial carried the flag for the Philippines along with judoka Kiyomi Watanabe.
The Asian record-holder is tipped to retain the gold medal he won by a commanding leap of 5.45 meters in the 2019 SEA Games in New Clark City.
Since that feat, the 6-foot-2 Obiena has set the bar higher to a new Asian men’s record of 5.93 m last year in Innsbruck, Austria.
“All I can do for now is to train harder and be better, and smarter. I really want to defend my SEA Games title,’’ said Obiena, who patched things up with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association in a mediation facilitated by the Philippine Sports Commission.
Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz fully supported Obiena’s installation as flag-bearer, saying that her fellow Tokyo Olympian is the “story of every Filipino athlete who fights to bring home pride and glory to the country.’’
“I’m very happy to see EJ as our flag-bearer for Team Philippines. I’m happy for him and the rest of the Philippine delegation. I will support him,’’ said Diaz, who was also nominated as flag-bearer by the POC. INQ
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