MANILA, Philippines -- Even if she did not win a medal in the recent Asian Weightlifting Championships, it was still mission accomplished for Hidilyn Diaz in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Monico Puentevella, head of the country's weightlifting federation, was glad that Diaz fulfilled the required number of tournaments that will seal her participation in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. It will be Diaz's fourth consecutive appearance in the Summer Games, having made her debut in Beijing in 2008.
"'Yung recent performance sa Uzbekistan, I'm very happy na hindi siya na-injure. Para sa amin, talagang hangarin lang namin is to qualify," said Puentevella of Diaz, who finished fourth overall in the 55kg division.
Liao Qiuyun of China, the current world record holder in the weight class, won the gold followed by her compatriot Li Yajun. Local lifter Muattar Nabieva edged Diaz by one kilogram to secure the bronze medal.
Puentevella was not at all disappointed that Diaz missed the podium, considering it was her first physical competition in over a year. Virtually all weightlifting events -- including an Olympic qualifier in March 2020 -- were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"'Wag lang masaktan," Puentevella noted. "Less than three months na lang (until the Olympics). Mabuti pa walang medalya, basta 'wag lang siyang masaktan."
The Uzbekistan event also served the purpose of giving Diaz and her team an idea of the level of her competitors with just a few months left until the Tokyo Games.
Liao lifted a combined 222kgs, while Li was just one off. Nabieva lifted 213kgs to Diaz's 212kg. The Filipina, who won a silver medal in the Rio Olympics in 2016, faltered twice in the clean and jerk where she no-lifted 121kg and 122kg in her second and third attempts.
"What you saw in Uzbekistan is a prelude to the Olympics," said Puentevella.
"Ang maganda doon sa Uzbekistan, nakita na natin ang kalaban," he added.
Only one Chinese lifter will qualify for Tokyo, although there are four Chinese lifters ahead of Diaz in the rankings. Regardless of who it will be, Puentevella said Diaz and her team are now aware of how much work needs to be done before the Games.
"Alam mo na anong hahabulin mo," he pointed out. "Alam na ni Hidilyn, ni Coach (Kaiwen) Gao, kung anong marka, sila Julius (Naranjo), ilang kilogram ang hahabulin niya ngayon."
"That's why, it was good that the prelude to the Olympics was in Uzbekistan, and nagpadala tayo ng lahat, para makita," he added. "So alam mo na kung lamang siya ng lima, four kg, three kg, 'yun ang pag-aralan mo sa training."
Diaz has returned to Malaysia, where she intends to stay until it is time to leave for Japan. The rest of the national weightlifting team arrived last week.
According to Puentevella, they plan for Diaz to arrive in Japan at least a month before the Olympics, most likely in a city near Tokyo where she can keep training.
Diaz's qualification meant that seven Filipino athletes are now assured of tickets to the Tokyo Games. Having already brought home a silver from Rio, another medal will make her the most bemedalled Olympian in Philippine history -- something that Puentevella is fervently praying for.
"It might be gold, praise the Lord kung makuha," he said. "Kung ano man makuha ni Hidilyn, I'm already very grateful to God."