TOKYO—There is a part of the Filipino way of life that EJ Obiena understands perfectly, having grown into it himself.
“I’ve been raised to be a timid kind of guy,” Obiena said during a Zoom conference on Wednesday.
So despite crashing out of the pole vault final Tuesday night, the University of Santo Tomas standout still managed to carve out a moment of inspiration for a race known for its tendency to be submissive: Obiena fought for what he felt was right and scored a victory off it.
The moment happened after he aborted his final attempt at the 5.80 qualifying mark at Olympic Stadium. Obiena noticed that while the uprights—vertical beams that support the bar that vaulters leap over—were being adjusted, his time was still ticking.
“I basically asked them to move the standards to 65 when the timer was already running. I was telling them I cannot jump if the bar is moving. I said you should have at least paused the time,” Obiena said. “From my point of view, I should have gotten the time it took for [organizers] to set it up. That should have still been on my one minute. So for me, I have one minute to jump so that whole one minute, there shouldn’t be any interruptions for me to be able to jump.”
Obiena approached the officials and pled his case. When he won his protest and got a re-jump, sports fans on social media applauded Obiena, including prominent lawyers like former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te.
“EJ Obiena argued his case and won it. Good example of knowing the rules and being able to assert your position,” Te tweeted.
EJ Obiena argued his case and won it. Good example of knowing the rules and being able to assert your position. Congrats on making the final round. And from a fellow fun socks fan, like the socks!
— Ted Te (@TedTe) August 3, 2021
“I believe … that if I truly believe I am right, I would fight for it,” Obiena said. “And that’s basically what I just did. It just so happened that it’s an Olympic final and it got the spotlight, it got the attention. But I do this every single day.”
And he hopes that Filipinos who cheered him on would do the same under the same circumstances, never mind if the Filipino culture tends to lean on the submissive side.
“I’m very happy that people look up to or praised my actions [during the final] because I believe everybody should be able to do that,” Obiena said.
“It doesn’t matter what your status is. If you’re the manager, you’re the clerk, you’re the sanitary personnel, you should be able to speak your thoughts. I’m not saying you should disrespect [anyone]. When you truly believe you’re right, there should be a right way to explain it, there’s always a right way to fight for it,” the 25-year-old vaulter added.
“Us Filipinos, we’re very timid, we’re very ‘yes po, yes po yes po’. Sometimes, we should say ‘wait lang po, pwedeng ganun; wait lang po, may idea ako; or wait lang po, Ito ang tingin kong tama.’ I believe everybody should do it.”
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