TOKYO – Four-time Olympic weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz of the Philippines carried the weight of the 110 million strong nation towards a historic first Olympic gold medal Monday evening at the Tokyo International Forum.
The Philippines has competed at the Summer Olympic Games since 1924, being one of Asia’s oldest participants. However, in its near century-long participation, it had only garnered ten medals, none of which was gold.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, it was also Diaz who averted another medal shutout for the struggling country experiencing a 20-year medal drought by bringing home a silver in the Women’s 53 kg Weightlifting event. She also became the first woman in Philippine history to win an Olympic medal.
Following her inspiring performance in Rio, she won gold in both the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in Manila to build momentum for a run at the elusive Olympic gold in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In early 2020, upon the recommendation of her Chinese coach, she decided to hold training camp in Malaysia to prepare for the Olympic qualifiers. This turned out to be the home base for her Olympic preparations as the global pandemic kept her in the neighboring country for over a year till she flew to Tokyo.
Tokyo 2020 presented a slight change in weight categories as Diaz now had to compete in the Women’s 55 kg Weightlifting event. Nevertheless, she remained confident of her chances at the Olympic gold. This, despite the presence of China’s Qiuyun Liao who holds the world record for the said event.
The competition began with the snatch, where Diaz and Liao found themselves both in second place after registering 97 kg apiece, 1 kilogram short of Uzbekistan’s Muattar Nabieva who cleared an Olympic record 98 kg. Diaz’s strategy then paid off in the clean & jerk when she let Liao make the first attempt. The world record holder cleared 118 kg which was followed by 119 kg from Diaz. At this point, both veterans had already secured at least a silver medal and were only dueling for the gold.
Liao chose to make an attempt at 123 kg which Diaz promptly topped with 124 kg. In her final attempt, Liao successfully cleared 126 kg to claim the lead. But Diaz, who suffered a minor hand wound in the snatch, never gave up and took a shot at 127 kg, a weight she had never cleared before. With the world watching, and her fellow Filipinos hoping and praying for the breakthrough gold, Diaz slowly powered through the attempt to register an Olympic record 127 kg in the Clean & Jerk and 224 kg in total.
Now that the 97-year Olympic gold medal drought for the country is over, Diaz will return home a hero. Prior to the Games, the 30-year old talked about retirement. But who knows what this Olympic gold medal will bring? Certainly, a new generation of inspired Filipino youth hoping to bring more gold and glory to the proud nation.