Hidilyn Diaz brings pride and glory to the Philippines after winning the country’s first gold medal at any Olympics.
With her impressive final 127kg lift, 30-year-old Diaz defeated China’s world record holder Liao Qiuyun in the women’s 55kg class. With that, she gave the Philippines its first gold after 97 years of Olympic competition.
Following her historic win, Diaz said she can finally treat herself to her favorite foods: cheesecake and bubble tea.
“Yes I will eat a lot tonight,” the triumphant weightlifter said of her plans. “I mean I’ve been sacrificing my food, and this is the time to celebrate together with the people who are behind me. So I’m really thankful I can eat now, yes.”
Diaz, who stands just 5ft 1in tall, became the only woman from the Philippines to win an Olympic medal when she bagged a silver in the 53kg class in Rio five years ago.
That victory also ended the 20-year medal drought for the country, whose athletes first competed on the Olympic stage in 1924 in Paris.
The next target for Diaz was a gold medal in Tokyo, so she recruited top Chinese coach Gao Kaiwen two months before winning her country’s first weightlifting Asian Games gold in Jakarta in 2018.
Diaz said that Gao—who had also coached the Chinese national women’s army team—made a difference in her lifts.
“He’s a positive person and I like to have him around me,” she said.
Gao introduced new routines and heavier weights in Diaz’s training before she enlisted another coach, Julius Naranjo, into her so-called “Team HD.” This combo of two greats improved her lifting so much and made it phenomenal.
Three years ago, Diaz lifted 92kg in the snatch and 115kg in the clean and jerk to win the Asian Games, which is 7kg heavier than her Olympic silver medal total.
In Tokyo, she once again shattered her previous record—at a weight division 2kg heavier. Diaz pulled off a flawless 97kg snatch and a series of 119kg, 124kg, and 127kg in her three clean and jerk attempts.
Her triumph is all the more remarkable because Diaz has been training in Malaysia since February 2020 and hasn’t been home since because of the pandemic.
She’s also had to put everything outside of sport on hold—her family, air force career, college studies, and managing her weightlifting gym in her hometown of Zamboanga in Mindanao.
After sacrificing a whole lot in the last two years, Diaz can’t wait to go home and be with her loved ones again.
“I’m looking forward to enjoy life because I have been in Malaysia for, I don’t know, almost two years so I’m really thankful I can go home now and celebrate with my family and the people who support me,” she said.
Diaz, the daughter of a tricycle driver in a poor village near Zamboanga, hasn’t seen her family since December 2019.
She first traveled to Malaysia in February 2020 because Gao believed it would help her focus better on qualifying for Tokyo. But COVID-19 restrictions came weeks after, and all the gyms closed.
Diaz also had a lack of access to weightlifting equipment at the time, and she began to doubt if the Games would happen at all.
For months, Diaz and her team were stuck in an apartment block in Kuala Lumpur, where they had to be careful not to crack the tiled floor while training with weights.
Amid all of this, Diaz still found the time to raise funds through online training sessions to distribute food packages to poor families in the Philippines during the coronavirus lockdowns.
A strong woman with a heart of gold.
In October 2020, Diaz and her team moved to Malacca, staying in a house owned by a Malaysian weightlifting official. She had access to a nearby gym but was forced to work out in the house’s painfully hot open-air carport for the last few months when restrictions were tightened again.
But despite all these training obstacles, Diaz still managed to win an Olympic gold medal.
Diaz will be given a hero’s welcome when she goes back to the Philippines.
“I’m thankful that God used me to inspire all the young generation and all the Philippines people to keep fighting during this pandemic,” she said.
Diaz said she doesn’t know if she’s a national hero, but she is surely one in the eyes of every Filipino. A true inspiration!
Take a look at Hidilyn Diaz’s winning moment in the video below.
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