By TITO S. TALAO
TOKYO — Antonio Agustin is no painter. But his were the broad strokes that helped create a Van Gogh, a Da Vinci, in XXXII Olympiad weightlifting gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz.
“She’s my masterpiece,” said Agustin, Diaz’s coach from 2003 to 2014, including the Olympic summers of 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London.
A provincemate of Diaz, who hails from Brgy. Mampang, Zamboanga City, Agustin, a silver and bronze medal winner in four Southeast Asian Games from 1991 to 2001, was introduced to the young Hidilyn by a cousin, Catalino Diaz, and proceeded to commence early training.
“They started as young kids there lifting sticks, just bamboo sticks which they use to fetch water,” said Agustin, who was part of the national team as its coach up until 2018 just before the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta-Palembang, where Diaz won a gold medal.
“I channeled everything I learned as an athlete into training Hidilyn and the other weightlifters in the team,” said Agustin, who took a secondary role when the local federation recruited Chinese coach Gao Kaiwen, who has coached multiple Chinese Olympic medalists, most notable of whom is 2012 women’s superheavyweight gold winner Zhou Lulu.
“Nag-usap kami ni Hidilyn non,” recalled Agustin. “Sabi niya, ‘Coach, kesa bumalik tayo sa China para mag-train, baka puwede mag-hire na lang ang association natin ng Chinese coach.’”
It was a federation to federation arrangement, said Agustin, who stepped aside and moved over to train other national weightlifters, including 22-year-old Elreen Ando, who was to make her Olympic debut in the 64kg category Tuesday evening.
Now Agustin, who gave up weightlifting for several years from 2001 to 2003 to earn an accounting degree at the Universidad de Zamboanga (formerly Zamboanga A.E. Colleges), is back doing what he does best — training young athletes until they reach their full potential.
Agustin is instrumental in ‘decentralizing’ training where weightlifters from other regions need not be based in Manila in order to be part of the national team.
“Nong time ko kasi, kahit nag-silver o bronze medal na ‘ko, pag balik ko Zamboanga para ituloy pag-aaral ko, tanggal ako sa team,” said Agustin.
But with the help of the Universidad de Zamboanga, whose former president once headed Philippine weightlifting, athletes like Diaz were able to stay in their respective hometowns while both training and getting their education.
“Isa yan mga naging goals ko nong naging coach na ako,” said Agustin. “Na ma-incorporate kong sa time nila sa class ang training. Kaya ang nangyari kina Hidilyn, nong time nila sa Zamboanga na na-recruit sila sa national team, pumupunta ako sa gym to train them pag vacant time nila sa klase.”
While he is no longer part of her inner training circle when his former student made history in the women’s 55kg division of the Olympic weightlifting event Monday night at the Tokyo International Forum, lifting a massive 127kgs — a Games record in the clean & jerk — to edge Chinese world record holder Qiuyun Liao for the gold medal, Agustin said he couldn’t be prouder.
“Sobrang saya ko na na-achieve ni Hidilyn yung honor na yon para sa kanya, sa pamilya niya at para sa bayan. History talaga yung ginawa niya,” said Agustin, alone having breakfast on the 28th floor restaurant of the Conrad Hotel here.
“Lahat ng natutunan ko nong atleta pa ako at naging coach na, lahat ng karanasan ko, isinalin ko sa kanya noon,” said Agustin. “Siya ang aking obra.”