MANILA, Philippines – As an 11-year old, Hidilyn Diaz learned the basics of weightlifting using pieces of Ipil wood. In the 2012 London Olympics, she will carry something of greater value: the flag of the Philippines.
Now 21-years old, Diaz qualified for the London Games after impressive performances in two qualifiers sanctioned by the International Weightlifting Federation. She will compete in the 58-kg division, and the UK Telegraph says she is the Philippines’ “strongest hope for a medal” in the 2012 Games.
Diaz told ABS-CBNnews.com that she hopes to place “fourth or fifth, maybe sixth” in London, but believes that if she gets a lucky break, she can earn a medal.
Filipinos have a reason to be optimistic about Diaz’s chances: when she was only 17-years-old, she became the first Filipina weightlifter to compete in the Olympics, entering the Beijing Games as a wildcard entry.
At the time, she finished 11th out of the 12 competitors, but it was still a promising finish given her youth at the time.
“Wild card lang ako at batang-bata pa,” Diaz said of the experience.
No other sport
Diaz comes from a family of weight-lifters and seemed destined for the sport even at a young age.
“Yung mga pinsan ko kasi, mga weightlifters... Na-curious ako sa kanila,” she said. “At first, basic lang talaga ang tinuturo. Kahoy lang muna.”
She was discovered during the Mindanao Friendship Games when she was only 13-years old.
“Maganda ‘yung resulta ko. Hindi ko alam kung ilan ang nabuhat ko, nakalimutan ko na,” she said. “Pero may nakikita na may potential (ako), so ni-recruit ako.”
Diaz said the moment she took up weightlifting, she knew it was the sport for her.
“At that moment, sineryoso ko na talaga. Wala talaga akong ibang alam na sport,” she said. “Sa badminton, talo ako. Sa swimming, hindi ako marunong.”
“Sa basketball, parati kasing bugbog. So weightlifting na,” Diaz added.
She was recruited in January of 2004. Later that year, she competed in the Asian Youth Championships and came close to winning.
“Malapit ko na sanang matalo ‘yung Taipei,” Diaz said. “Fourth ata ako. Sayang.”
It was during the 2011 World Weightlifting Championships in Paris that Diaz realized she can be among the best in her sport.
In the women’s 58-kg division, she placed seventh among more than 30 competitors.
“Sabi ko, uy, nandito na pala ako. Pang world na pala ang beauty ko,” Diaz said. “Kaya ko na pala ang mga kalaban ko.”
The Zamboanga City native is now hard at work, training at the Surrey Sports Park in the United Kingdom. Her event is scheduled for July 30.
Diaz acknowledged that training in London was no easy feat, as her body was still adjusting to the challenging weather conditions.
“Medyo nahirapan pa ako, pero nakakarecover naman,” she said. “Apektado ako ng weather, pati ang time, pati ang pagkain dito.”
Diaz is honored to carry the Philippine flag in the opening ceremonies, saying that she deserves to be the flag-bearer.
“Hindi ko alam kung bakit nila ako binoto, pero tingin ko naman deserving ako,” she said. “Nag-qualify din ako sa Olympics, tapos nagboto pa sila sa akin.”
Diaz holds the Philippine record in the snatch (96-kilograms) and in the clean and jerk (123 kilograms). She set both records in the POC-PSC National Games last May in Dumaguete City. -- With a report from Carol Panday, ABS-CBN News Europe Bureau.