Thu, Aug 23, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Philippines’ Diaz books spot in sport folklore


Hidilyn Diaz of the Philippines competes in the women’s 53kg event at the Asian Games in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Photo: AP

The Philippines yesterday saluted Asian Games gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz, as the soldier-weightlifter gave the basketball-mad nation a lift after a heartbreaking hoops loss to China.

Footage of the tearful Diaz, the silver medalist from the Rio Olympics, saluting the flag after Tuesday’s victory brought goosebumps to Filipinos following the Indonesia event.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte late on Tuesday excitedly announced in a speech that the nation had broken its gold medal duck at the games with Diaz’s victory, while Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo hailed her “story of triumph over adversity” and the lifter earned a special citation from the Philippine Air Force.

“We give Hidilyn Diaz our snappiest salute for her discipline, perseverance and hard work that made her achieve another milestone,” it said in a statement.

Diaz, from a poor coastal village in Mindanao, began lifting weights by carting 18-liter jugs of water for her family to use for cooking, drinking and bathing, but has now set her sights set on Olympic gold — after indulging in a guilty passion: cheesecake and bubble tea.

“The sacrifices you make are so hard when you’re training every day,” she said after winning the gold. “I can’t eat sugar and sweets. I miss eating cheesecake and drinking bubble tea with friends. It’s hard.”

Diaz was already assured a place in her nation’s sporting folklore as the only woman ever to win an Olympic medal.

However, with top Chinese coach Gao Kaiwen now “making a difference” in her corner, she believes she can turn Rio 2016 silver into Tokyo 2020 gold after winning the women’s 53kg event in Jakarta.

“My coach has been with me for two months,” she said of Gao, who is also head coach of the Chinese national women’s army team. “I am so grateful for him. He made a difference in my lifts.”

Gao’s experience has been invaluable to Diaz, who has blossomed late in her weightlifting career — she did not even qualify for the last Asian Games in Incheon four years ago.

“He changed my technique and more than that made me understand why I need to make the change if I want to win Tokyo 2020,” she said.

Gao introduced new routines and heavier weights in training and the results are clear — Diaz lifted 53kg personal bests of 92kg in the snatch and 115kg in the clean and jerk in Jakarta to total 7kg greater than her Olympic silver effort two years ago.

“That change in technique has given me even more confidence,” she said. “I’m really confident [of lifting more], because I was able to lift 115kg in training.”

First she needs to qualify for Tokyo, a cycle that starts at November’s World Championships in Turkmenistan.

Meanwhile, the busy Diaz is to attempt to juggle training with her air force career, college studies and managing her new weightlifting gym she opened last year in her hometown of Zamboanga.

“I don’t know if I will win [the world title], because I will go back to school,” she said. “But I will do my best.”

Diaz’s victory could reportedly be worth as much as 6 million Philippine pesos (US$112,322) in bonuses awarded to Philippines gold medalists from the government, National Olympic Committee and other organizations.

She said she would invest the money in her gym to give back to weightlifting in the Philippines and leave a legacy after she retires — Tokyo 2020 is to be her last event.

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