Pole Vaulter Ernest John 'EJ' Obiena has been named as the flag bearer of Team Philippines in the traditional parade of nations during the opening ceremony of the 31st Southeast Asian Games at the MNy Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi on May 12.

/ 18 April 2022

Obiena has a successful sporting career after his Tokyo Olympic participation, gold medal-finish in the 2019 SEA Games with a leap of 5.45 meters, and he has raised the bar to a new Asian men’s record of 5.93 meters in Innsbruck, Austria, last year.

“It’s an honor,” Obiena said. “I was heading home after training here in Formia [Italy] when I received the message.”

The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), initially, nominated Obiena to carry the country’s colors together with the country’s first Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz who will defend her weightlifting gold medal in the Games.

However, the SEA Games allow only one athlete to carry the nation’s flag.

“There could only be one flagbearer for each country. We nominated Hidilyn and EJ, but it was turned down,” POC president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said. “Like Hidilyn, EJ has all the qualifications to be our flagbearer.”

Diaz gave her support to her fellow Tokyo Olympian as she believes that Obiena 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 flagbearer for Team Philippines,” said Diaz. “I’m happy for him and the rest of the Philippine delegation. I will support him.”

“All I can do for now is to train harder and be better, and smarter,” the 26-year-old Obiena said. “I really want to defend my SEA Games title.”

Obiena is among the 656 athletes who will be competing in the 39 sporting events and will be defending the country’s successful overall championship campaign. 

“We are fielding a fighting team,” Tolentino said.

Team Philippines will be flying to Vietnam in batches with the main bulk set to leave on May 10.