No stranger to starting from zero, Hidilyn extols value of setting high goals and doing everything to accomplish them
It was the biggest year for sports, and an even bigger year for the national weightlifting federation—and it all began on the bus ride back to the hotel during the 2012 London Olympics.
There, Hidilyn Diaz slumped on her seat, looking “broken and embarrassed,” the head of the Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas (SWP) recounted.
Diaz failed to complete her lift, a DNF (did not finish) across her name in the scoresheet putting an end to her second Olympic stint.
On Monday night, she had another DNF: Did Not Fail.
“This only means that nothing is impossible and we Filipinos can do [great things],” Diaz said in Filipino after accepting the Athlete of the Year trophy from the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) at Diamond Hotel.
Diaz recounted how before, she would only dream of ascending the steps of the biggest sporting awards spectacle in the country while watching athletes like Marestella Torres receive their share of glory from the PSA.
“I used to watch these proceedings and dreamed of just attending,” she said, on the verge of tears.
Diaz was the hands down choice of athlete of the year and she talked about rising from adversity and conquering barriers—tasks she is very much familiar with.
In 2012 in London, SWP president Monico Puentevella felt the then 21-year-old weightlifter was done for, her dreams crushed by the weight of everyone’s expectations—not to mention the one that she literally had to lift in competition.
“She was really broken and for a moment, I thought this time, she would give up. She was embarrassed for her performance in her second Olympics,” said Puentevella.
“Then she came back with a vengeance.”
Thirteen years later, Diaz, resplendent in a golden gown that matched the color of her triumph in the Tokyo Olympics, accepted the trophy that plugged her in the heart of Philippine sporting lore.
Diaz became the first Filipino to win an Olympic gold medal to highlight a magical year for sports in the country. Vanessa Sarno also became the Asian champion in the junior and senior divisions after ruling her weight class in the continental tournament in Uzbekistan last year.
It was an even bigger year for the sport, which received an avalanche of awards.
Aside from Diaz’s Athlete of the Year, Sarno and Olympian Elreen Ann Ando received citations from the PSA. The SWP shared the National Sports Association of the year trophy with the boxing federation. Diaz also won the female athlete of the year trophy during the Inquirer Sports Awards, which also feted Sarno as the junior athlete of the year and weightlifting mentors Gao Kaiwen and Julius Naranjo as coaches of the year.
Puentevella was also tied with Philippine Olympic Committee president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino for sports official of the year.
Diaz, however, remains the sport’s crown jewel.
And she reached that status after plumbing previously uncharted lows and setting her sights on the highest of highs: An Olympic gold.
“Sabi nila dati ang taas ko mangarap—bakit hindi? (People used to say I dream too high—why not?),” she said with a defiant streak in her tone, before adding in Filipino: “It costs nothing to dream.”
Diaz came close in Rio de Janeiro. She ended a 20-year medal drought for the country with a silver there in 2016. But a poor performance in the Asian championships surfaced questions about whether she had reached her peak.
“I simply advised her to make up her mind. If she wants to settle down I’ll give her all my blessings,” Puentevella said. “But if she still wants to go chase that elusive gold, I told her then go back to the gym and work hard for it.”
Indeed, Diaz stared down every challenge thrown her way: She got locked down in Malaysia and had to train with her team there. Ripped apart from her family, she worried constantly about them during the pandemic.
“I don’t think we can go on without challenges in life; that’s where we draw strength to succeed,” Diaz said.
And her success has propelled a sport to mainstream consciousness where kids as young as 8 are starting their own journey to becoming the next Diaz.
And to that end, Diaz hopes to be an inspiration to those younger athletes, in weightlifting or otherwise, eyeing Olympic glory.
“We can do this,” she exhorted. “And I believe many more Filipinos will win the gold in the Olympics.”
“Laban, atletang Pilipino. Laban, Pilipinas. (Fight, Filipino athlete. Fight, Philippines)
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