OLYMPIAN pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena once again showed that he is peerless in the region, as he retained his title with relative ease in the 31st Southeast Asian Games athletic competition at the My Dinh National Stadium on Saturday, May 14.

With his Southeast Asian competitors either failing to clear the bar several times or suffering from cramps from too much exertion, Obiena cleared the bar at 5.4 meters to capture the gold right on his first attempt. It was 40 centimeters better than the five-meter leap of compatriot and eventual silver medalist Hocket delos Santos.

With the gold already secure, Obiena took aim at his own SEA Games mark of 5.45 meters he set in the 2019 Philippine SEA Games. Just like in his previous leap, Obiena cleared the bar for a new SEA Games record of 5.46 meters, trouble free to the loud cheers of a handful of Filipino fans on the sidelines.

“I’m relieved and happy to win the gold. I came here as a favorite and finally delivered. Mission accomplished,” said Obiena, the Asian record holder at 5.93 meters.

The 26-year-old Obiena, currently ranked no. 6 by World Athletics, then tried to obliterate his own Asian mark by setting the bar at 5.94 but failed thrice.

What started out as a good day, however, ended badly for the Philippines as the Gilas men’s and women’s 3x3 teams failed to defend their respective titles.

The Gilas women’s team was beaten by Thailand in the semifinals, 14-21. Thailand eventually won the gold at the expense of Vietnam, while Gilas was shut out, losing to Indonesia 10-16 in the battle for third.

The quartet of Janine Pontejos, Afril Bernardino, Clare Castro, and Angelica Surada, who also lost by the same score to the vastly-improved Thai side last Friday, finished with an even 3-3 mark in the eliminations for the No. 4 spot in the semifinals, being ranged anew against the Thais.

Meanwhile, the Gilas men’s team of Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser, Jorey Napoles, Marvin Hayes, and Reymar Caduyac lost to Thailand 17-21 in the semifinals and settled for the bronze after beating Indonesia 14-10.

Basketball action takes a one-day break before the start of the 5-on-5 tournament on Monday.

The Gilas Pilipinas men’s squad, backed by a robust mix of players from the PBA, Japan B. League, and the cadet pool of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, arrived here early Saturday morning.

The Gilas Pilipinas women also arrived here, even going to the 3x3 tournament to support their teammates that will also be playing in the 5-on-5 battle.