Although athletes are reluctant to admit, they also rely on human “security blankets,” people who can calm them down and give them reassurance by just being around in the heat of battle.
In the case of weightlifter Hidylin Diaz, it is nutritionist Jeaneth Aro whom she wanted to be present while she completed her mission in the Asian weightlifting championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, last Sunday.
Despite Aro’s absence, the Rio Olympic silver booked her fourth straight trip to the Olympic Games in Tokyo in July by placing fourth in the women’s 55-kilogram division with a total lift of 212 kilograms after snatching 94 kilos and hoisting 118 kilos in the clean-and-jerk.
Her stint in the Uzbek capital fulfilled the mandatory requirement of seeing action in 6 International Weightlifting Federation-sanctioned tournaments that would be used as the basis to qualify for Tokyo using the IWF Olympic ratings by the end of April.
The IWF is the sport’s national governing body.
Currently based in Malaysia together Chinese coach Gao Kaiwen and fitness and conditioning coach Julius Naranjo, Diaz is currently No. 5 in her weight division of the updated IWF rankings for 2021
“Dami kong mail sa larong ito, ang dami ko rin natutunan (I made a lot of mistakes here and also learned a lot),” she said. “Mas marami pa akong kailangan gawin (I need to do a lot of work more).”
But she rued the absence of Aro, who has a family and had to stay behind due to the escalating COVID-19 cases in Manila and has been closely monitoring the athlete’s specific nutritional needs even from a distance.
“Daming improvement na dapat gawin like sa food and mental. ’Yung team din kulang kasi wala si a’am Jeaneth (We need to improve much as in food and the mental aspects. We were short since we were missing ma’am Jeaneth),” she said.
Aro was a ringside witness when Diaz won her first gold medal at the 30th Southeast Asian Games at the heritage-rich Ninoy Aquino Stadium at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in December 2019.
“Nagda-drop ako ng weight before the official weigh-in and I need proper monitoring of my nutrition for proper recovery before we begin competing,” Diaz explained for her need of the respected nutritionist, who counts Tokyo-bound boxer Eumir Felix Marcial and pro golfer Miguel Tabuena among her clients.
But Diaz understood why Aro couldn’t go due to the rampant cases of the coronavirus in the Philippines and the possibility of transmitting the disease since they would have to be in close contact with each other in Uzbekistan.
“Medyo risky,” she acknowledged.
She was hopeful though that Aro, who has an International Olympic Committee sports nutrition diploma, would be available for her in Tokyo once they all get vaccinated before the event.
Businessman and sportsman Enrique Razon has pledged that the Philippine Olympic contingent would be vaccinated before plunging into action in the quadrennial meet kicking off July 23 in the Japanese capital.
The weightlifter revealed she and her coaches had also applied for vaccination with the Malaysian government.
“With her (Diaz's) sacrifices and experience in the past three Olympics, we believe she has a huge chance of winning an Olympic medal in Tokyo again,” said Philippine Sports Commission chairman Burth Ramirez in congratulating the athlete Monday.
“This is the reason why the PSC bankrolled her training, her team and gave her our all-out support.”
And to boost Diaz’s further medal chances in the Summer Games, weightlifting chief Monico Puentevella disclosed that he intends to have the athlete and her training squad set up a training camp in Japan before the Tokyo Olympics.
“With the help of the Japan Olympic Committee we like to set up a training camp for her before the Olympics. We were told that the city of Shibutsu has a training center where there is a simple Japanese hotel nearby,” Puentevella said.
The weightlifting head, who watched Diaz’s performance via live streaming on the IWF Facebook page, said he believes that Diaz could be returning to the podium in Tokyo based on the showing of the Fillipina campaigner’s opposition.
“Only one weightlifter per country can compete in each weight division in Tokyo,” Puentevella said. “So even if two Chinese finished first and second (Liao Qiuyun and Li Yajun) in Tashkent and are actually the top two in the IWF ratings, only one of them can compete in the weight class.”
He said that the Uzbek Nabieva Muttar, who settled for bronze in the event, was someone that Diaz had met before and has more experience should they face each other in Tokyo.
“If the conditions are ideal, she (Diaz) might win silver again, if not gold in Tokyo,” Puentevella pointed out.