MANILA, Philippines -- Philippine weightlifting will continue to flourish even if Hidilyn Diaz chooses to step away from the sport at the end of the year.
This was the guarantee made by Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas (SWP) president Monico Puentevella, who is already looking ahead to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris where he is confident that Filipino lifters will shine.
Diaz is the only Filipino lifter to have qualified for the Tokyo Games so far, though Puentevella is not losing hope that she will be joined by Elreen Ando and Kristel Macrohon.
After winning a silver medal in the Rio Olympics in 2016, Diaz is hoping for a breakthrough gold in her fourth appearance in the Games.
"Gusto ko mag-focus si Hidilyn sa Tokyo," Puentevella said recently. "Kung sakaling hindi niya makuha [ang gold], if it's silver, bronze, I will be the happiest man again, kasi she will be the most bemedalled Olympian in the history of this country."
"Pero I'll tell you honestly," he added. "If she doesn't get it in Tokyo, in Paris, you watch us, because we are not going to put in only one Olympian."
Puentevella is confident that the next generation of Filipino lifters can compete in the international stage. In particular, the Filipina weightlifters have already proven that they can shine at the Asian level.
In the recent Asian Weightlifting Championships, Ando won a pair of silvers and a bronze in the 64kg division. Macrohon, already a gold medalist in the Southeast Asian Games, won two bronzes in the 76kg.
And 17-year-old Vanessa Sarno lived up to the hype by winning two golds and a silver in the 71kg class.
"We will have maybe three or four, baka maswerte pa, baka mag-lima," Puentevella said. "These girls are coming on strong."
"After Hidilyn, the ultimate challenge will continue," he added. "'Pag hindi mangyari sa Tokyo, mangyayari sa Paris 'to."
Puentevella is particularly hopeful for Sarno, who has been dubbed as the heir apparent to Diaz. The teenager did not compete in the 2019 SEA Games at home, but has been steadily racking up honors in junior competitions before her breakout performance in Tashkent, Uzbekistan recently.
"If she can fight against the best in the world, in Paris, she'll go for the gold. Talagang I have that feeling," Puentevella said of Sarno. "That's why 'pag hindi nakuha ni Hidilyn, ayun, meron na naman tayo."
For now, however, the Filipino lifters will first focus on the upcoming SEA Games. The federation will hold a tryout in Bacolod in August, after Diaz competes in the Olympics.
"I'm just happy that we will produce gold in the SEA Games, but my aim talaga is Paris," Puentevella said.