JAKARTA—Two years after becoming the first Filipina to win a medal in the Olympics, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz was now under more pressure than ever before.
The 27-year-old, who won silver in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, was tabbed as one of the Philippines’ few gold medal hopes in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, something that caused great distress for Diaz.
"’Yung third Olympics, no one expected me to win,” Diaz said of her historic feat in Brazil, which turned her into a household name and put a spotlight on weightlifting in the Philippines.
“Now, sa Asian Games, everyone expects me to win and bring the gold,” she noted. “The pressure, sobrang laki. Natatapakan na ‘yung pagkatao ko, pati ‘yung belief ko sa sarili ko, nawala.”
So intense was the pressure on her that Diaz even 'ghosted' her friends on social media.
“Sobrang hirap,” she said. “Pati sarili ko, dina-doubt ko. Then, lahat ng mga kaibigan ko, bina-block ko. Alam mo ‘yun, hindi ako nagme-messagae talaga.”
“Talagang ‘yung emotion ko, talagang nire-reserve ko for Asian Games,” she explained.
It was her deep faith in God that helped Diaz carry on; indeed, she listened to worship songs all throughout the morning of her competition in the Asian Games. In spite of the pressure, the expectations and the harsh spotlight, Diaz was able to deliver the gold that the country craved so badly in the Asiad.
Lifting a combined weight of 207 kilograms in the 53-kg event on Tuesday afternoon, Diaz beat Turkmenistan’s Kristina Shermetova and Thailand’s Surodchana Khambao to win the gold medal. Her Olympic rival, Sopita Tanasan, settled for fifth place.
As much pressure as she was in, Diaz was also quite confident, especially after she lifted 92 kg in the snatch, just one kilo behind Shermetova’s attempt. The Zamboanga City native knew that when it came to the clean and jerk, she could outshine the competitor from Turkmenistan.
“Sobrang kompyansa ako sa clean and jerk,” she said. “Alam kong malakas ako sa clean and jerk, and siya hindi medyo malakas. Kilala ko ‘yung kalaban ko, so alam ko na panalo na ako.”
Diaz lifted 115 kg in her second attempt, and watched as Shermetova failed to lift 116 kg in her final attempt. With that, she didn’t even bother in her third and final lift, knowing that the gold had been wrapped up.
“Masayang-masaya ako,” she said. “With the pressure, tapos ‘yung training, preparasyon . . . ‘yung training na nagawa ko, may resulta. ‘Yung outcome, maganda.”
2020 Olympics, next target
After finally earning a breakthrough medal in the Asian Games — Diaz finished last in 2010 and sixth in 2014 — she is now setting her sights on what will almost certainly be her final event for the Philippines: the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Her triumph in the Asian Games has given Diaz a renewed confidence, and she now believes that she can turn her silver in Rio to gold in Tokyo.
“Gagawin ko ang lahat,” said Diaz. "’Yan ang pangarap ko, and ‘yung ang last na Olympics ko.”
“Ito, for Tokyo 2020, parang stepping stone ito sa akin,” she also said. “Nag-(leave of absence) ako sa St. Benilde para dito, so I’m willing to do everything para sa last Olympics ko.”
Yet Diaz, who has competed in three Olympic Games for the Philippines, is also the first to say that the road to Tokyo will be long. There is an 18-month qualifying process, which starts in November at the World Championships.
She will also be the standard-bearer for the Philippines in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games that will be held in Clark and Subic.
Already, Diaz is asking Philippine sports officials to help her in her journey to Tokyo, after proving in Jakarta that her requests for financial support were justified.
“Ginawa ko namang tama, nanghingi ako ng financial assistance sa PSC (Philippine Sports Commission) and nanghingi din ako ng request sa POC (Philippine Olympic Committee) na sana, bigyan nila ng team ko na isama sa Asian Games,” she explained.
This team, said Diaz, included not just a traditional weightlifting coach but also a nutritionist, a sports psychologist, a strength and conditioning trainer, and a physical therapist. She had also named her new Chinese coach, Gao Kaiwen, as the crucial factor behind her triumph in Jakarta after he helped improve her lifting technique.
“Ang laki ng naibigay niya sa akin,” Diaz said of Gao, who only joined their team in June but immediately made an impact on their technique and training methodology.
Keeping Team Hidilyn together
She will need coach Gao and the rest of her team if she hopes to make it to the top of the podium in Tokyo, said Diaz.
“Hopefully sa Tokyo 2020, maisama sila, kasi kailangan na kailangan ko sila,” said Diaz. “Sa lahat ng mga laro ko, kailangan na kailangan ko sila, lalo na ‘yung sports psychologist and strength and conditioning (coach) ko,” she said.
“ 'Yun ang kailangan ng elite athlete kung gusto nila manalo ng gold medal sa Tokyo 2020,” she stressed.
Right now, the PSC and the POC have yet to agree to her requests, said Diaz. But she is ready to keep on appealing to them, not just for herself but on behalf of all Filipino athletes.
“Yun ang hinihingi ko, na sana pakinggan nila kaming mga atleta,” she said. “At ‘wag nila sabihin na atleta lang kami. Pakinggan nila, kasi kami ang nagdadala at nagre-representa sa Pilipinas.”
“Give us morale, and pakinggan kami sa kung ano ang kailangan namin,” she stressed.
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