Elreen Ando braces for duel vs Hidilyn Diaz-Naranjo in Korea
Elreen Ann Ando is bracing for a formidable challenge in the Asian Weightlifting Championship where her toughest foe won’t be from another country.
Ando is headed for a showdown with Olympic gold medalist and compatriot Hidilyn Diaz-Naranjo.
The tournament, scheduled May 3 to 13 in Jinji, South Korea, is one of the competitions that will serve as qualifiers for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
And only one ticket is at stake per weight class.
“Of course, I want to return to the Olympics and it would be a dream come true if I could win a medal there,’’ Ando, who wore the national colors in the Olympics in the Tokyo 2021 edition, said in Filipino.
The collision course between the two Philippine bets became inevitable the moment weight categories were reduced for the Paris Games.
Diaz-Naranjo won the gold in the 55-kilogram (kg) class while Ando finished seventh in the women’s 64 kg. Both weight divisions were abolished for Paris and Diaz-Naranjo opted to move up in weight while Ando chose to move down—with the two Filipinos eventually landing at 59 kg.
The Asian championships is actually the first among a series of clashes between Ando and Diaz-Naranjo in a race to the French capital.
“I know it would be hard, but I just keep on training and I hope I could make it,’’ said Ando, who could face Diaz-Naranjo in four Olympic qualification tournaments in their qualifying buildup to France.
Right after her face-off with Diaz-Naranjo in South Korea, the 24-year-old from Cebu will immediately pack her bags and fly to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the next day where she will spearhead the weightlifting team in the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
Ando, who claimed a silver medal in the 64-kg class at the Vietnam SEA Games last year, will see action at the 59-kg category this time. Diaz-Naranjo will skip the Cambodia meet as she intends to build up on mass and strength as she focuses on Olympic qualification tournaments.
Diaz-Naranjo and Ando need to finish in the top eight in four of the five Olympic qualifying tournaments. The higher finisher between the two Filipinos will book the lone outright ticket to Paris.
“People are telling me that I can do it. I believe so. It gives me inspiration. I have to compete in four more Olympic qualifiers out of the five. It has to be quality over quantity and I must study my options,’’ said Diaz-Naranjo.
Ando and Diaz-Naranjo could again meet in the 2023 International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in September.
Another compulsory event for the two lifters is the 2024 IWF World Cup on April 2 to 11 next year in Phuket, Thailand.
Diaz-Naranjo lifted a total of 224 kgs in Tokyo, an Olympic record, while Ando lifted 222 kgs in her weight class.
Also joining the lifting squad to Cambodia are defending champion Vanessa Sarno (women’s 71 kg), Kristel Macrohon (women’s +71 kg), Angeline Colonia (women’s 45 kg), Lovely Inan (women’s 49 kg), Rosalinda Faustino (women’s 55 kg), John Febuar Ceniza (men’s 61 kg), Dave Llyod Pacaldo (men’s 67 kg) and John Dexter Tabique (men’s 89 kg).
“I think we’ll be fine in Cambodia. We’re eyeing 2 to 3 gold medals,’’ said Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas president Monico Puentevella.
The team will leave for Cambodia on May 11. The weightlifting event starts on May 13 at National Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh.