Hidilyn Diaz starts transition to higher 59-kg division for Paris Olympics
Even before campaigning in the World Championships in Colombia where she completed a gold medal collection not many elite athletes can even talk about having, Hidilyn Diaz-Naranjo was already charting a master plan for what could be her swan song—the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The Philippines’ only Olympics gold medal winner got a bonus there when she saw her potential Paris competition up close and personal.
“I watched them at the world championships. I saw how they played, their techniques and how they prepared themselves. We already know,’’ Diaz-Naranjo told the Inquirer.
“Saw” meant that Hidilyn was watching an entirely different field playing, a field she will know she gets to join in Paris as she climbs up to the 59-kilogram class where Luo Xiaomin of China and Yenny Alvarez of Colombia will be waiting to snuff her dreams of winning a second straight Games gold.
Hidilyn won Worlds golds in the snatch, clean and jerk and total in the 55-kg class where she is most comfortable. And until August next year, Diaz-Naranjo will make the jump to the heavier division where her efforts in winning in the World Championships is simply pale compared to those of the favorites in the 59-kg division in Paris. Building up body mass to make the weight could be less daunting than cutting down excess weight, but the four-time Olympian states the need to develop a muscular physique that can wield more power and strength.
“I need to be more focused while training to meet 59 kg. Rest is likewise crucial to prevent injuries. I will also work on my diet. I see muscle-building as an advantage with more protein intake compared to dropping my weight,’’ said Diaz-Naranjo.
“And of course, I expect that training will be much harder, and it will come with my regular psychology sessions. The mental part of weightlifting is also difficult,’’ she added.
Team HD, minus one
Sports psychologist Karen Trinidad is part of Team HD’s success in the Tokyo Olympics as well as nutritionist Jeanette Aro and Hidilyn’s husband-head coach Julius Naranjo, who will be assisted by Roel Garcia, a member of the national men’s weightlifting team.
Gone is Gao Kaiwen, the brilliant Chinese coach who helped Diaz-Naranjo win the gold in Tokyo.
Diaz-Naranjo said her numbers are close to the winners of the women’s 59 kg in the world champs—gold medalists Xiaomin (103 kg, snatch) and Alvarez (133 kg in the clean and jerk).
Podium finishers Kuo Hsing-chun of Chinese Taipei and Canada’s Maude Charron, the reigning 64-kg Olympic champion, also remain as her toughest foes.
“I have to really accept and train my mind that this is a completely different weight [division] and I have to double my effort. It’s easy to build mass, but it’s hard to build your muscles and develop your strength at the same time,’’ said Diaz-Naranjo.
She’s currently working out daily in Jalajala, Rizal, where Team HD has been renting a venue that also doubles as a training ground for at least 20 kids and some members of the national squad.
Diaz-Naranjo will again set up camp in Suwanee, Georgia in the United States in March, the same camp where they trained prior to the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships in Colombia.
She joined Charron and Americans Katherin Vibert (76-kg Tokyo silver medalist) and two-time Pan-American champion Jourdan dela Cruz in that star-studded training camp.
Spending time in that facility has somewhat become an eye-opener for Team HD. The experience has prompted them to develop a groundwork anchored on scientific means as they intend to mesh their technique and strategy with science.
“We saw how other athletes improved while training in that camp, so why not give it a try? In fact, we’ve already bought some of the equipment from the US so we can use them here,’’ said Diaz-Naranjo.
“There’s an app that they are using to measure your jump, your strength and speed in lifting a weight, among others. The results are accurate and from there, you can strategize and make the adjustments,’’ she added. “This is the future of weightlifting.’’
After educating themselves on cutting-edge technology and sophisticated training once more in the US camp for two weeks, they will return home and prepare for the Asian championships in Korea in May, a qualifying event for Paris.
Diaz-Naranjo said they would either train in Japan for two weeks prior to competition or go straight to Korea early and train with the best lifters there to acclimatize.
The Filipino weightlifting icon needs to go through five qualifying tournaments before the Paris Olympics, with two of them compulsory events—the 2023 IWF World Championships in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Sept. 2 to 17, 2023 and the 2024 IWF World Cup.
With the Bogota tournament in her pocket, Hidilyn will be seeing action in three of the four required events this year, including the Saudi Arabia Worlds.
“I’m not thinking of just qualifying. My goal is to become the best lifter in these [qualifying] tournaments,’’ said Diaz-Naranjo.
A regular day in the life of Diaz-Naranjo includes training for two to three hours in the morning and another three to four hours in the afternoon with regular physical therapy along with her sessions with Trinidad on a weekly basis.
The hunger for another Olympic gold medal has become stronger for Diaz-Naranjo, who, at one point, doubted if she could return to the scene of her conquest.
“There were doubts before. Can I still do it? Am I still strong enough to compete? It was in the world championships that I realized that I still can,’’ said Diaz-Naranjo.
For her, being an athlete doesn’t end when you’ve already reached the pinnacle of success.
“You don’t stop because you’ve already reached your goal. It’s a question of if you can still do it and if you love what you are doing. It simply doesn’t end with winning,’’ said Diaz-Naranjo.
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