How 'Ate Hidilyn' fired up Pinoy Olympians in Tokyo

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 11 2021 11:13 AM

Hidilyn Diaz of the Philippines holds her gold medal. Edgard Garrido, Reuters
Hidilyn Diaz of the Philippines holds her gold medal. Edgard Garrido, Reuters

MANILA, Philippines -- Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz has learned to embrace her role as the elder stateswoman of Team Philippines -- and the older sister of her fellow Olympians -- during the recent Tokyo Olympics.

Diaz inspired an entire nation when she became the Philippines' first-ever Olympic gold medalist by ruling the women's 55kg division of weightlifting. But she also fired up the rest of the Filipino Olympians, some of whom got the opportunity to see Diaz's gold medal before she flew back to the Philippines.

Three of those Olympians went on to win medals of their own: boxers Nesthy Petecio and Carlo Paalam claimed silver in their respective weight classes, and Eumir Marcial secured a bronze. For the three, Diaz's feat was a great source of motivation, something that fueled them in their own campaigns.

Marcial was especially motivated by Diaz's golden achievement. Like the weightlifter, he also hails from Zamboanga and is a member of the Philippine Air Force.

"Sobrang ang laking bagay na nanalo si Ate Hidi," Marcial told Paolo del Rosario of Cignal TV after his Olympic debut, an abbreviated win over Algeria's Younes Nemouchi. "Sobrang na-inspire po ako sa kanya."

In an appearance on the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday, Marcial said he drew strength from Diaz's journey to the gold medal. It took the weightlifter three tries before winning a medal, a silver in the Rio Games in 2016, and another Olympic stint before she finally topped the podium.

"Talagang ate siya sa amin," Marcial said of Diaz. "Nagbigay din siya ng inspirasyon sa amin na, 'yung process, kailangan talaga. Si Carlo, kahit first Olympic niya ngayon, ako first Olympics ko, Nesthy, nakuha namin 'yung medal, pero 'yung proseso nito, ang layo."

Petecio doesn't call Diaz "ate" the way the other Olympians do. After all, Diaz is only a year older than her. Instead, she calls the weightlifter "champ."

According to Petecio, Diaz has been her inspiration even before she won a gold medal.

"Noong bago pa lang ako sa national team, nakikita ko na siya sa mga tarpaulin, nadi-display na siya sa Philippine Sports Commission," Petecio revealed. "So sabi ko na, ang galing niya, lalo pa noong nag-Olympics siya, 17 ka pa ata 'di ba champ, na nakapasok ka sa first Olympics mo, 17 years old ka pa noon."

"Sabi ko, kapag nakikita ko po siya, naka-display po siya doon sa Philippine Sports Commission, o kung saan, sabi ko gusto ko din, ako, 'yung mukha ko, makita ko din someday sa tarpaulin or sa kung saan," she added.

Seeing Diaz win her Olympic gold -- and getting the chance to actually touch the medal -- was a big deal for Petecio who went on to become the first Filipina boxer to win a medal in the Summer Games.

"Grabe ang hatak niya po sa amin," Petecio said of Diaz. "Noong nasa Olympic Village po kami, pinahawak niya po sa amin 'yung medalya niya."

"Kahit hawakan ko lang, kahit pahawak lang, pampa-swerte. Grabe, sobrang sinwerte po talaga ako, kami, kasi sobrang nahatak po kami sa kanya. So thank you, thank you, champ," she said. 

The young Paalam, the "bunso" of the boxing team at 23 years old, had to overcome his own shyness to ask for a photo with Diaz. He recalled watching the weightlifting final, feeling goosebumps and crying at Diaz's triumph.

"Sobrang saya ko po, kasi siyempre isang inspirasyon siya sa akin po. Salamat ate sa pinakita mong tibay ng loob, sa lahat ng Pilipino po at sa mga atleta po," he said. "The best ka po, at saludo ako sa 'yo."

Diaz, for her part, is glad that her journey can serve as a source of motivation for her fellow Filipino athletes.

"Kailangan kong tanggapin na, tumatanda ako with experience, sa sports, sa weightlifting," said the 30-year-old. "Naka-apat na akong (Olympics), at humuhugot sila ng inspirasyon sa akin. Kaya tinatawag nila akong ate, dahil andoon na ako eh. Alam nila, 'yung experience ko doon, ang dami kong pinagdaanan."

"Siguro, 'yun nakita nila na si Ate nga, ilang beses na nag-Olympics, four times, at sila first Olympics nila, nanalo na sila ng silver, ng bronze. Nakita nila, ang dami kong pinagdaanan, at hopefully it will serve as inspiration sa kanila na 'wag sumuko," she added.

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