Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz formalized her entry into her fourth straight Olympic Games back in April when she participated at the delayed Asian Weightlifting Championships, but her performance was subpar, missing the podium in the women’s 55kg category.
Known to be a top contender in her event, Diaz was outperformed by two Chinese lifters, including world record holder Liao Quiyun, and Muattar Nabieva of Uzbekistan as Diaz settled for fourth place.
With only three months left for the Olympics in Tokyo, the result appeared to cause doubts over Diaz's ability to win gold.
Apparently, it was part of the Diaz’s team strategy for the Tokyo Games -- to scout her strongest opponent and work in practice to beat the numbers, reserving her full potential at the biggest stage.
“Alam ko na that was the prelude to the Olympics kasi andun yung Chinese champion na kalaban natin kagabi,” Monico Puentevella, head of Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas, the sport's national governing body, told TeleRadyo Tuesday.
According to Puentevella, he advised Team HD not to force Diaz to win the gold in the Asian Championships to blind her foes of her real numbers.
“Pero sinabi ko rin na huwag niya pwersahing mag-gold kasi kapag nag-gold ka . . . Sabi ko sa mga coaches, ’wag natin ibuhos ’yung ating kaya kasi babantayan tayo. Nag-champion sila [China], pinalabas nilang kaya nila,” he added.
Liao took the gold at 222kg while her teammate Li Yajun had the silver at 221kg. Diaz only lifted 212kg in the competition.
Aware of the possible numbers of Quiyun at the Olympics, Diaz returned to Malaysia and devoted her time in practice to exceed the Chinese numbers from the regional games.
“Kung ano yung kanilang nakaya, ’yun ang tinira sa practice ni Hidi. Kaya dun sa Kuala Lumpur pagbalik, ’yun lang tinutukan niya. At alam niya na kaya niya pala ang world record holder na Chinese kagabi (Monday),” Puentevella quipped.
And the game plan proved to be a success.
On Monday, Puentevella’s prediction was entirely accurate as Diaz and Liao went head-to-head down to the last attempt in clean and jerk.
“Palagay ko pati Chinese coaches kagabi na-shock natin sila. Kasi di nila akalain na sasamahan sila ni Hidi hanggang sa last lifting ng barbel,” he said.
Diaz, indeed, eclipsed the world champion’s numbers in the Asian Championships, posting an Olympic record 224kg and ultimately wrote history for the Philippines, beating Liao (223kg).
“Akala ng Chinese coaches bugbugin pa rin nila si Hidi. Sanay sila na talunin si Hidi but this one is a different Hidi. Talagang nakita ng Pilipinas na maski anong problema, anong dinaanang hirap pero kaya. She wants to show kahit gaano kahirap, lalaban tayo,” Puentevella said.
Diaz ended the 97-year gold medal drought of the Philippines at the Olympics, making her a two-time Olympic medalist.