By Waylon Galvez
After 18 months, weightlifting superstar Hidilyn Diaz is finally home.
And she returned in a blaze of glory as she finally quenched the nation’s thirst by winning the first Olympic gold medal in record-breaking fashion – a feat many thought it was impossible to achieve.
But Diaz delivered what she promised when she left the country in late January 2020 – to go all-out for that elusive medal.
No less than President Rodrigo Duterte led the nation in virtually congratulating the country’s first Olympic gold medal winner.
Diaz was still at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport 2 when the President, who was with several cabinet members in Malacañang, congratulated her.
“As expected, the nation is ecstatic about your achievement,” said Duterte. “Your achievement is the achievement of the Filipino nation. We are extremely proud.”
“We cannot express even in the words of an athlete how we should really be shouting hallelujah.”
“Pero salamat naman sa pag-tiis mo. I hope that the years of toil, the years of disappointment, and the years na hindi maganda ang nangyari in the past, you already have the gold – gold is gold.”
It was indeed a challenging journey for Diaz to get to the Summer Games as she spent 18 months away from her family to focus on training in Malaysia. She failed to make a podium finish in the Asian Championship last April in Uzbekistan, which also served an Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT).
However, by joining the OQT, Diaz completed the required number of six OQTs, which booked her a ticket for a fourth straight stint in the Olympics following her campaigns in 2008 Beijing, 2012 London and 2016 Rio where she earned a silver medal finish.
Despite the presence of world record holder Liao Qiuyun of China, Diaz mightily lifted an Olympic record of 127kgs in clean and jerk on the third and last attempt that gave her the gold medal last Monday.
Diaz also successfully lifted 97kgs in snatch, which gave her a total of 224kgs – likewise an Olympic mark.
Liao finished with a total of 223kgs following her 97kgs in snatch and 126kgs in clean and jerk to earn a silver medal, while Kazakhstan’s Chinshanlo Zulfiya placed third for the bronze with a total of 213kgs – 90kgs in snatch and 123kgs in clean and jerk.
Duterte said that it’s time for Diaz to celebrate the victory, and forget – for the meantime – the hardships she went through to achieve her goal that she now shares with the entire nation.
“It could be good for you. Let bygones be bygones and dwell solely on your victory together with your family and of course with the nation. Ayusin mo mabuti buhay mo. You’ve been blessed by God,” said Duterte.
“Over and above all these monetary considerations, it’s always the honor that you brought to the country that counts most. Mabuhay ka. Ako naman ang mag-saludo sayo.”
As she saluted the latest sporting hero of the country, Duterte gave Diaz the highest respect.
More than a beauty pageant winner, Diaz was welcomed by incessant clickings of cameras when she went down the stairs of the airport and flashing her winsome smile as she walked to a room to change to her military uniform.
Her team – Chinese head coach Gao Kaiwen, sports psychologist Dr. Karen Trinidad and Julius Naranjo, her boyfriend who also served as her strength and conditioning mentor – followed suit.
Her historic gold medal feat came exactly five years after Diaz earned a silver medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Diaz successfully lifted an Olympic record of 127kgs in her favorite clean and jerk event on the third and last attempt.
Diaz’s best lift in the snatch event was 97kgs in snatch, which gave her a total of 224kgs – also an Olympic mark.
Diaz has already savored the ‘Hero’s Welcome’ particularly when she brought home a silver medal in 2016 that ended 20 years of medal drought for the Philippines in the Olympics.
But the one being prepared for her would be different amid the health scare due to COVID-19 pandemic that has been made worst due to Delta variant.
Other members of the national team that arrived Wednesday, July 28 were weightlifter Elreen Ann Ando, weightlifting coaches Tony Agustin and Ramon Solis, and skateboarding coach Daniel Bautista.
Didal finished seventh among eight finalists in the street skate event, while Ando placed seventh among 10 participants in the 64-kilogram category of the women’s weightlifting.
All athletes and coaches are required to stay at the Sofitel in Pasay City for a mandatory seven-day quarantine period.