Pole vaulter EJ Obiena knew full well things were going to be dead serious during the Tokyo Olympics pole vault finals on Tuesday evening, so he wore something that comforted him.
A mismatched pair of socks with SpongeBob Squarepants on his right foot and Patrick Star on his left caught the attention of viewers as the Filipino left his all, even fighting tooth and nail for his last attempt, on the track.
"I take myself a little bit too seriously, because this is a competition, this is something that seems like something very serious," recalled Obiena in the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) press conference the morning after he finished 11th.
"At the end of the day, it's a sport, it's a game. I should enjoy it, I should not take it too seriously, that's why I put on those socks as a reminder to not think about it too much. Enjoy, have fun," he continued, while also adding that "funky" socks have been a big part of his uniform since last year.
The world's sixth-ranked pole vaulter furthered that if he had it his way, he would have wanted socks inspired by anime My Hero Academia or Naruto, but regulations did not let him buy in-store or online.
So, the two best friends who live under the sea it was as Obiena battled the likes of eventual gold medalist Armand Duplantis of Sweden.
Looking back at the final, the 25-year-old admitted he was also caught off-guard by his early exit, as he was not able to clear the bar thrice at the 5.80m mark.
"I was not just feeling myself. I don't know if it's something off with my technique, I don't know if it's physical, I don't really know. Because if I knew it, I would have just been able to adjust," recalled Obiena, whose personal-best is 5.87m.
"I made the bar, but I didn't feel good, I didn't feel like I'm jumping the way (I should be) jumping. It didn't feel the same as well in 5.70m. To be honest, I was (using) the pole to be able to jump 5.87m, I was already using it at 5.70m, so I know I could make big bars on that pole, but yeah, it didn't," he continued.
Down to one last try at 5.80m, it looked like the clock ran out on the Filipino, as he set off twice only to stop and decide against planting his pole. Afterwards, he argued to event officials he hesitated to make an attempt because the bar was moving.
"I said, '[Officials] should have at least paused the time.' I was arguing a little bit with the Japanese guy and the officiating table. I was asking, 'How do you expect me to jump? You're giving me a minute supposed to be set. How can I jump if the bar is still moving?'" recollected Obiena.
"You gave me one minute to jump, there shouldn't be any more interruption for me to be able to jump," he added.
Luckily, the Philippine bet's plea was ultimately ok'd by organizers. Unluckily, in his unimpeded try, he still fell short of the clearance and was ousted from medal contention.
Still, he was thankful that officials agreed that he was in the right.
For now, Obiena is unsure of what his next move would be, pending consultation with longtime coach Vitaly Petrov. If he were to follow his own heart, though, he would want to go home in order to clear his mind, rest, and relax.
"I know that's not the right thing, not the responsible thing to do so right now I'm going to talk to my coach, try to understand what he wants me to do and think about what I want to do, and maybe find a compromise of some sort. But currently, I don't know," he expressed.