Hidilyn did all she could to be physically prepared and gets lift from mind guru
At 3:45 p.m. of competition day, Hidilyn Diaz and her team headed for Tokyo International Forum for the Olympics’ women’s weightlifting competition. Her weigh-in was scheduled at 5 p.m. but the team needed to be at the venue early for a different reason.
“Part of her program was for her to go to the podium before the competition [so] that she would go up, feel [the environment],” said Dr. Karen Trinidad, the sports psychologist inside Team HD, Diaz’s close-knit and vital support group.
Once they got there, Diaz went through the last mental exercise she needed to do before the start of the 55-kilogram competition, which was headlined by the previously untouchable Liao Qiuyun of China, the reigning world champ and world record holder of the division.
But it wasn’t the only mental exercise Diaz repeatedly performed alongside her physical training.
Trinidad managed Diaz’s mental well-being during the journey towards the country’s first Olympic gold medal. While Diaz was training for the Olympics in Malaysia, Trinidad focused on keeping the Zamboanga-born athlete calm and balanced.
Team HD had known beforehand that Diaz’s fight for gold would be on a Monday. So on Mondays, during the training period, Trinidad and strength coach Julius Naranjo would start settling Diaz into a routine.
“Every Monday, we were already asking her to wear the uniform she was going to wear here,” Trinidad said. “The shoes, socks, even her hair [was fixed to the way she would wear it in competition]. Why? For her to be comfortable.”
But as competition day approached, Trinidad’s goal was to calcify the weightlifting star’s mental resolve.
“Self-belief is very important, because that’s where you get self-confidence,” Trinidad said. “One second of doubt in weightlifting, you’re going to lose your focus. And then you start feeling the weight of what you are lifting. That’s why we changed even her self thought. Before, she [would repeat to herself] ‘slow and then fast.’ But we felt that as we do that, there is that one second [where] doubt [can surface] because in going from slow to fast, there’s a transition.”
“So we changed it to one motion,” added Trinidad, who has worked with the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) since 2008 and is now the head of the PSC’s sports psychology division.
As zero hour approached, Trinidad and members of Team HD—coach Gao Kaiwen, Naranjo and nutritionist Jeaneth Aro—all talked to Diaz, reaffirming their faith in her.
“With coach Gao, I asked him if he honestly believed that Hidilyn could win. And he said Hidilyn is strong. [To Hidilyn], he said, ‘You have to relax. If you’re not strong, I’ll be the one that will get stressed. I’m relaxed because you trained very well.’”
And the team’s message? “We believe in you. The reason why we are working with you is because we have one goal. If you don’t believe in yourself, then we are all useless,” Trinidad said.
And confidence was vital to the game plan. Team HD had known beforehand that her final lift would be 127 kilograms in the clean and jerk.
“And she had never lifted 127 before,” Trinidad said. “The most she had done was 125. So she had to be really confident.”
And they did everything to reinforce that self-faith. They showed her clips of Margielyn Didal, the ever-smiling skateboard Asian champion who finished seventh in the street competition here.
“According to studies, if an athlete smiles, they get added energy,” Trinidad said. “So [in weightlifting], it’s explosive, you empty your energy. So if you frown, you’ll lose a lot of the energy you’ll be needing.”
And then to fire up her competitiveness, Trinidad had her watch the fight of Carlo Paalam in men’s boxing.
“We let her watch because it would boost her fire,” Trinidad explained. “Because it’s always nice to watch the Olympics if it is your country that is competing. So for her facial [demeanor], she got from watching Didal. From watching Paalam, she got aggressiveness.”
One by one, the mental pieces began falling into place. On Monday, just minutes before the weigh-in, Diaz began working on the last exercise.
She stepped into the competition platform, the stage lights all trained on her. And in front of hundreds of empty seats, she began going through the motions of her lifts. Snatch. Clean and jerk. Squat, barbell to racked position. Drive arms upward. One motion.
After that, Diaz, wearing a red Philippines jacket, took time to stand in the center of the competition platform staring at the silence.
Hours later, Diaz, wearing the same jacket, would be standing on the same spot, bathed in smoky lights and the sweet sound of the “Lupang Hinirang” being played, wearing a nation’s gold medal around her neck.
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