Obiena excited to bear colors in Hanoi Games

HANOI—Asian men’s pole vault record holder Ernest John “EJ” Obiena assumes the role of flag bearer for Team Philippines in the 31st Southeast Asian Games.

He was supposed to do that prestigious role at the Tokyo Olympics but let go of the opportunity.

Obiena arrived in Hanoi from his base in Formia, Italy, on Wednesday, in time for the opening ceremony on Thursday at the 40,000-seat My Dinh National Stadium.

The 26-year-old Obiena, the world’s sixth best pole vaulter, was nominated flag-bearer with Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz, but the superstar weightlifter decided it should be Obiena’s turn.

“It’s a bigger honor because Ate Hidi (Diaz) said it should be me,” said Obiena upon his arrival at the Noi Bai International Airport.

Obiena was supposed to bear the flag in the postponed Tokyo Olympics last July but had to give way because of complications with his flight schedule from Europe.

Flag-bearing duties are reserved for the best athlete or athletes of a country.

Obiena’s targeting no less than the gold medal in men’s pole vault where he’s guaranteed for the gold with his Asian best 5.91 meters he achieved at the Meeting de Paris at the Stade Charlety, Paris, last August.

Those numbers are nearly half a meter higher than the SEA Games record of 5.45 meters he himself set in winning gold in the Philippines 2019 SEA Games.

“I’m representing athletes competing in the SEA Games, but also 109 million Filipinos back home,” Obiena said.

According to Philippine Olympic Committee President Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, Team Philippines will be represented by a 30-member contingent as ordered by the Games organizers for each of the 11 member countries, with Tokyo Olympian and Asian men’s pole vault record holder Ernest John “EJ” Obiena as flag-bearer.

“We’re 30 officials and athletes who’ll be allowed in the parade of nations,” said Tolentino, who’ll be marching with Philippine Sports Commission Commissioner and chef de mission Ramon Fernandez. “We chose those athletes who are in Hanoi and those who don’t have a game early the following day.”