RIO DE JANEIRO — Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz brought joy to the entire nation Sunday (Monday morning in Manila) when she bagged the silver medal in the women’s 53 kg division and ended a 20-year medal drought for the Philippines in the Olympics.
Diaz trained hard for this Olympics, her third straight after stints in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London. She said prior to the competition that this could be her last Olympics, and that if she was thinking of a medal then it’s a bronze in her weight class.
“That’s all I wanted — a bronze medal. But God gave me the silver medal,” said the 25-year-old pride of Zamboanga City, who became the first female athlete from the Philippines to win a medal, of any color, in the Summer Games.
The Philippines has won nine medals in the Olympics, all courtesy of male athletes, since it first participated in 1924. It’s the third silver for the country after boxers Anthony Villanueva and Onyok Velasco win in 1964 and 1996.
The Philippines has yet to win the gold. Diaz said she’s not sure if she would continue competing all the way to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“We cannot tell,” said Diaz, who is set to receive Php5 million from the Philippine government as her incentive in winning the silver in the Olympics. She is bound to receive more than that when other donors start showering her with gifts.
When Velasco won the silver in 1996, he received a brand new car and a house and lot from the private sector. Then he quit from boxing and became an actor.
Diaz said it hasn’t sunk in yet.
“Hindi ko pa sure. Artista? Hindi ah,” said Diaz.
“I would have been grateful with a bronze medal because that’s what we were targeting. Masaya na sana ako sa bronze medal,” said Diaz, who joined the short elite list of athletes to win an Olympic medal for the Philippines.
Her victory also ended a long drought dating back in 1996 during the Atlanta Olympics where boxer Mansuete “Onyok” Velasco won the silver medal in the light-flyweight division. No other Filipino athlete came close to a medal since then.
At the Riocentro Pavilion 2, the 25-year-old Diaz broke the spell.
The member of the Philippine Air Force bagged the silver with a total lift of 200 kilos. She has a best lift of 88 kilos in the snatch and 112 kilos in the snatch and jerk.
Diaz failed in her first attempt at 88 kilos in the snatch and then in her last at 91 kilos. In the clean and jerk, she opened up with a good lift at 111 and then the 112 and failed in her last attempt at 117 kilos. By that time, she was already assured of the bronze.
China’s Li Yajun, who set a new Olympic record of 101 kilos in the snatch, looked assured of the gold. But she could not complete a lift in the snatch and jerk, failing at 123 kilos once and then twice at 126 kilos.
It was a grave tactical error on the part of the Chinese, who could have won the gold without trying to lift 123 or 126 kilos. But they were too aggressive, going for the Olympic record without making sure they had won the medal first.
With three failed attempts in the clean and jerk, the Chinese did not win any medal.
Taipei’s Hsu Shu-Ching eventually won the gold with a total lift of 212 (100 in the snatch and 112 in the clean and jerk). South Korea’s Yoon Jin Hee benefitted from the Chinese blunder because instead of being fourth she won the bronze.
Yoon had a 199 total (88-111).
Diaz said she was already being congratulated for winning the bronze when the South Korean camp started rejoicing at the warm-up area, saying they won the bronze. Everybody did not expect the Chinese to fail in all three attempts in the clean and jerk.
“I was surprised why the South Koreans were celebrating when everybody thought they were fourth. In turned out that they had won the bronze. Taipei took the gold instead of the silver and us, the silver instead of the bronze,” said Diaz.
Diaz said she already contacted her mother in Zamboanga City, and thanked her conditioning coach in Manila, Jay Putalan.
She also thanked the doctors who are here with the Philippine delegation, Dr. Ferdinand Brawner and chiropractic expert Martin Camara.
Diaz dedicated the win to her mother, Emelita, who celebrated her 53rd birthday the other day. She said they spoke on the phone after the victory, and said she was told that her mother, based in Zamboanga City, cried watching her win a medal.
When she completed her lift at 112, Diaz and her coach, Alfonso Aldanete, started to celebrate. Diaz jumped into the arms of her coach. At that time, they knew they were assured of the bronze medal.
The Filipino sports officials at ringside, led by Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose Cojuangco and chef-de-mission Jose Romasanta, started celebrating as well. The other officials who were there included International Olympic Committee representative to the Philippines Mikee Cojuangco Jaworski, her predecessor, Frank Elizalde, POC officers Steve Hontiveros and Julian Camacho, and former Philippine weightlifting head Monico Puentevella.
Diaz received her silver medal with a big smile on her face, joining the two other medalists at the podium. For the first time in 20 years in the Olympics, the Philippine flag was raised during an awarding ceremony.
“Pinanalo ni Hidilyn yung ronze yan. Yung silver regalo ng Diyos. Walang kapares ang Olympics,” said Cojuangco, adding that he hoped that Diaz’ triumph would be the start of a new chapter in Philippine Sports.
“I hope this is the ice-breaker,” said Cojuangco, adding that the athletes have President Duterte to thank for.
It was an historic moment for not only for Philippine sports but for the country in general. The long wait is over, and even before the Filipinos plunged into action here, others aired doubts if the country can win any medal here in Rio.
The Filipinos launched its campaign the other day and sports officials watched as Ian Lariba of table tennis, Jessie Khing Lacuna of swimming and Charly Suarez of boxing fell out of contention one after the other Saturday.
The other Filipino weightlifter, Nestor Colonia in the men’s 56 kg class, could not duplicate Diaz’ heroic feat.
After a good lift of 120 kilos in the snatch, the 24-year-old Colonia bungled his next five lifts at 125 kg twice, and then 154 kg thrice in the clean and jerk.
Colonia almost collapsed on stage after his last attempt. Then he complained of dizziness, and was taken to the clinic. He said he thought he was ready to collapse, and it took him some time to recover and get up in his feet.
“Akala ko talaga hihimatayin na ako,” he said.
“He (President Rodrigo Duterte) was the inspiration. In the many years I was POC president, it’s the first time we held a send-off for the athletes in Malacanang. We broke the ice,” said Cojuangco.
“But we’re not yet here in Rio,” he said.
Light-flyweight Rogen Ladon, another medal bet in boxing, will make his Olympic debut Monday against Colombia’s Yurberjen Martinez of Colombia, a 3-0 winner over Brazil’s Patrick Lourenco in last Saturday’s preliminary round.
Ladon drew a bye in the first round, and only needs to wins to make it to the semis, and also assure himself of a medal. He needs four wins to bring home the gold medal. His opening match is set at 11:3- a.m. Monday.
The others who are still waiting for their turn are judoka Kodo Nakano in the 81 kg on Aug. 9; swimmer Jasmine Alkhaldi, who vies in the women’s 100m freestyle on Aug. 10; golfer Miguel Tabuena from Aug. 11 to 14; marathoner Mary Joy Tabal on Aug. 14; hurdler Eric Cray on Aug, 15; long jumper Marestella Torres on Aug. 16; and taekwondo’s Kirstie Elaine Alora in the +67 kg on Aug. 20.
“We are not going home empty-handed. We are all very happy about Hidilyn’s accomplishment. But we must remember that we have other athletes who are competing. Let us continue to cheer for them and who knows what might happen,” said Romasanta.
Diaz is scheduled to arrive Manila on Aug. 11. PNA/northboundasia.com