Vanessa Sarno overcomes self-doubt en route to SEA Games gold

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 25 2022 03:34 PM

 Philippines' Vanessa Palomar Sarno  AFP
Philippines' Vanessa Palomar Sarno competes in the women's 71kg weightlifting event during the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Hanoi on May 21, 2022. Ye Aung Thu, AFP

MANILA, Philippines -- Before her record-breaking performance in the 31st Southeast Asian Games, young Filipina weightlifter Vanessa Sarno first had to battle through self-doubt that at times left her in tears.

At just 18 years old, Sarno emerged as the breakout star of the Philippine weightlifting team in Hanoi when she won gold in dominant fashion in the women's -71kg division. 

Sarno completed all of her lifts, setting a SEA Games record in the snatch (104kg), the clean and jerk (135kg) and the total weight (239kg). Her combined lift was 16kg ahead of the silver medalist from Thailand, Siriyakorn Khaipandung.

"Hindi ko po ine-expect na magbe-break po ng record and to win gold po in the SEA Games," Sarno said in an appearance on "The Game" on Tuesday night. "'Yung ano ko lang po is, to perform the game na okay po 'yung performance ko at enjoy po 'yung game ko po."

It was the first SEA Games stint for Sarno, who revealed that she was unsure if she would get the spot in the national team in the first place. Sarno had to battle Kristel Macrohon for the -71kg division in the tryout set up by the Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas.

While Sarno has already won gold in the Asian Championships in 2020, she knew there was still no assurance that she would get the place in the national team. Macrohon, after all, won SEA Games gold in the -71kg in the 2019 SEA Games.

"I've been doubting myself before po mag-tryouts, what if hindi ko makukuha 'yung stint na 'to. Kasi actually, naglaban po kami ni Ate Kristel po noong tryouts. Alam ko po na malakas din po si Ate Kristel, so nagda-doubt ako na baka matatalo po ako, baka hindi ko po makukuha," Sarno said.

"Palagi ko pong pinu-push 'yung sarili ko, pero minsan talaga, dina-doubt ko talaga 'yung sarili ko po. Kaya umiiyak na lang po ako minsan," she added.

But Sarno outduelled Macrohon in the tryout, and the older weightlifter wound up representing the Philippines in the +71kg division where she placed fourth. Sarno, meanwhile, used the experience to further motivate her in the build-up to Hanoi.

"Noong naka-qualify na po ako, sinabi ko na eto na, opportunity ko na po 'to, hindi ko na 'to sasayangin," she said.

That she delivered a gold medal in spectacular fashion was a massive boost of confidence for the teenager, who is already being touted as the heir apparent to Olympic champion Hidilyn Diaz. 

"For me, mas nakaka-boost po ng confidence na, kaya ko 'to. So sa next is kakayanin ko rin po," she said of her SEA Games experience. "I will never doubt myself again. Tears of joy na po dapat."

"Sabi ko sa sarili ko na, 'Eto na, so dapat huwag ka na mag-doubt sa sarili mo kasi lahat ng binigay ni God na problems or struggles in life is kaya mo 'yun. Hindi Niya ibibigay 'yun sa 'yo 'pag hindi mo siya kaya'," Sarno also said. "Kasi, pag may gusto ka po, if you really want something that you never had po, you have to do something that you never did."

Filipino weightlifters contributed two gold medals, a silver and a bronze to the country's medal haul in the SEA Games.

Diaz successfully defended her gold medal in the 55kg division, while another young lifter, Rosegie Ramos, won bronze in the 49kg division.

Tokyo Olympian Elreen Ando grabbed the silver in the 64kg division.

Thailand, which did not compete in the weightlifting events in 2019 over doping offenses, made a successful return in Hanoi as the Thais won six golds along with five silver medals and a bronze.