That moment when Hidilyn Diaz took to the stage and lifted that 127 kg barbell at the Tokyo Olympics Monday is probably the most breathtaking 30 seconds Filipinos have witnessed of late. Watching the moments that followed the triumphant lift, however, it’s also hard to miss the first person who approached the new Olympic gold medalist and gave her a tight congratulatory hug.
That guy in blue, as many Hidilyn fans know by now, is our new hero’s strength and conditioning coach, Julius Irvin Naranjo. He also happens to be her boyfriend of three years.
Hidi met Julius, a Filipino-Japanese weightlifter, at the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan in 2017. Julius represented Guam in the 62kg weight category. The Guamenian athlete told Sports U two years ago that he was immediately drawn to Hidi, although he was not exactly aware of how big a deal she was in Philippine sports. “When I watched her first competition at that meet we were at, I was inspired to see her willpower,” he shared, “her way of really fighting towards the top, working hard, it’s such an inspiration.”
That first meeting eventually led to a special relationship, and to Julius coaching Hidi not long after. The Zamboangeña athlete had a big dream, after all, an Olympic gold medal—so she was grateful for people like Julius who can help her achieve it. “My goal is to really inspire her and help her win the medal in the Olympics,” said Julius then, “and that’s what really drove me to set aside my own personal goals, to help her and the Philippines somehow in any way I could.”
Julius’ Linkedin profile reveals that Hidi’s strength and conditioning coach is also a filmmaker and cofounder of Collective Culture LLC, a digital marketing, web design, video production, product marketing, and sports photography agency. He is said to have retired from weightlifting after a back injury.
Hidi admitted that two athletes with strong personalities working together didn’t seem like the most ideal setup. They would get into fights when Julius applies a style of coaching different from the previous one they employed. In a 2019 episode of Magandang Buhay, Hidi shared that it took eight months before Julius was able to earn her trust as a coach. It was in June of the same year when Hidi realized she had indeed gotten stronger through her coach/boyfriend’s help.
Julius admitted it could get very difficult playing the role of a coach and partner to the Pinay athlete. “You go through her emotions, you have to deal with all of that, you have to deal with the physical pain [that] she goes through herself. And also the losses,” he mentioned. “Everything that [Hidilyn] experiences, I have and will experience them as well.”
What the 30-year-old coach brings to the table goes beyond professional support. His moral and emotional encouragement is of utmost important to Hidilyn as well. He would try his best to be around during her competitions, even if it means saving a big sum to buy the plane tickets. “Being there for her when she’s down and when she’s winning. Being there for her no matter what. When she’s down, I comfort her. Even if she doesn’t want to talk, I’m there, and I think that’s what makes the difference.”
Hidi said this is precisely why she fell in love with Julius. “Kasi siyempre mahirap mahalin si Hidilyn Diaz. Kasi priority ko is God, weightlifting, family, medyo last sya. So tanggap naman nya na hindi sya masyadong priority and sya mismo ang nagbibigay ng time for me. Doon ko sya na-appreciate sa buhay ko,” the Pinay sportsman told Sports U.
Asked in that 2019 interview when they plan to take their relationship to the next level, Julius said everything has to wait until the Olympics—the ongoing one he meant. “We agreed, after the Olympics,” he smiled meaningfully. Hidi said she is confident that Julius, who she says is a good boyfriend, will be a good husband and father. The Olympian shared with “Magandang Buhay” that she’d love to settle down and have a baby after winning the Olympic gold.
Photos from @hidilyndiaz on Instagram