MANILA, Philippines -- Olympic champion Hidilyn Diaz is hopeful that her rise to the pinnacle of her sport will compel sports leaders in the Philippines to listen better to athletes and their concerns.
Diaz took a long, bumpy road to the top of the podium, winning the Philippines' first-ever Olympic gold medal on Monday night when she ruled the 55kg division in the Tokyo Olympics.
The 30-year-old Diaz, competing in her fourth Summer Games, set two new records when she lifted 127kg in the clean and jerk, bringing her total lift to 224kg. She had just missed out on setting the record in the snatch as well, faltering in her attempt of 99kg.
Afterwards she was celebrated as a national hero, with the Philippine government and private sponsors lavishing her with millions of pesos' worth of incentives.
But for Diaz, her great hope now is that there will be more medals on the way for Team Philippines, be it in Tokyo or in future Games.
"I'm really thankful na ngayon, na-realize nila na, ng government na nag-adapt din sila. Ngayon kasi, kailangan din na makita na, ano ba talaga ang kailangan ng isang atleta para ma-sustain natin 'to?" Diaz told Karen Davila on ANC's Headstart, Thursday morning.
"Para hindi lang ako 'yung first gold. Marami tayong gold na sunod-sunod. So nakita nila. Siguro parang ako 'yung naging parang pioneer nito. So nakita nila na, 'O, ganito pala. Kung gusto natin manalo ng gold medal, kailangan talaga ng suporta ng atleta,'" she added.
The issue of support is a thorny one for Diaz who in 2019 took to social media to ask for help from the private sector, when she was attempting to qualify for the Tokyo Games.
Back then, she met with the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), which was insistent that they did not lack support for Diaz as well as her coaches, collectively known as Team HD.
Looking back at the experience, Diaz said she hopes it was a lesson to local sports officials.
"During the pandemic, lahat tayo parang natutong makinig, natutong tignan kung ano bang reason ni Hidilyn bakit naghingi siya ng sponsor," Diaz said during an online forum by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP).
"Good thing ngayon, naintindihan nila, at nakita nila 'yung hiningi ko or nire-request ko ay para naman sa bansa. At ayun, napatunayan ko eh. Napatunayan ko na kaya natin," she pointed out.
"So 'yung susunod, at least alam na nila kung anong kailangan talaga ng atleta. Hindi kaya ng atleta na mag-isa maglaro. Kailangan nila ng tulong ng sports system, kailangan nila ng tulong ng NSA, kailangan nila ng tulong ng PSC, kailangan nila ng tulong ng private sponsors."
Asked for her advice to the country's sporting leaders, Diaz said simply: "Siguro ang advice ko sa government bodies, makinig."
"Makinig or tignan kung ano ba talaga ang kailangan ng isang atleta, kasi siyempre iba 'yung last 2000, or 1980 na pangangailangan ng atleta. Iba sa ngayon," she said.
While sports leaders want the best for their athletes, there are also those who may be stuck in their own ways. But Diaz stressed that athletes now have different needs, especially if they hope to compete at the highest level.
"Sana, tignan nila kung ano 'yung kailangan talaga, 'yung present. Hindi lang 'yung kung ano ang alam namin; kung hindi, ano ang kailangan ng atleta," she said. "Hindi kung anong alam ng isang sports leader, kung hindi, ano ba talaga ang kailangan ng isang sports or isang atleta. Kasi 'yung sports kasi, iba-iba 'yung pangangailangan."
The PSC, for its part, said it is in full support of what it calls the "Hidilyn Model." The agency said it approved the requests of the Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas for a support team for Diaz on her road to the Tokyo Olympics.
This support team -- Team HD -- includes Chinese head coach Kaiwen Gao, strength and conditioning coach Julius Naranjo, nutritionist Jeaneth Aro, and sports psychologist Dr. Karen Trinidad. All of them were present in Tokyo when Diaz lifted her way to the gold medal.
According to PSC chairman William "Butch" Ramirez, they are providing the same level of support to several other elite Filipino athletes, including gymnast Carlos Yulo, pole vaulter EJ Obiena, and judoka Kiyomi Watanabe.
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