Weightlifting’s profile rises, generates Olympics talent pool         | Inquirer Sports
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Weightlifting’s profile rises, generates Olympics talent pool        

By: - Reporter / @junavINQ
/ 04:05 AM May 17, 2023

Southeast Asian Games - Weightlifting - Olympic Taekwondo Hall, Phnom Penh, Cambodia - May 15, 2023 Philippines' Vanessa Palomar Sarno in action during the women's - 71kg

Southeast Asian Games – Weightlifting – Olympic Taekwondo Hall, Phnom Penh, Cambodia – May 15, 2023 Philippines’ Vanessa Palomar Sarno in action during the women’s – 71kg REUTERS/Cindy Liu

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA—Vanessa Sarno laughed shyly when told that stories about her winning the gold in the women’s 71-kilogram division of weightlifting in the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games were generating a lot of eyeballs.

“It feels overwhelming and inspiring,” she told the Inquirer on Tuesday.

Sarno was one of two gold medalists for the national weightlifting squad—the other being Cebu’s record-smashing Elreen Ann Ando in the women’s 59-kg class. The two women competed in Cambodia less than a week after vying for medals in the Asian championships on South Korea, where Sarno copped three silver medals.

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Before leaving the country for South Korea, Sarno expressed uncertainty about how she would perform in the Cambodia meet considering the tournament’s proximity to the Asian tilt.

“I don’t know how to [approach] it but I’ll just go out and play,” she told the Inquirer then.

Looking back at the two competitions now, the 19-year-old lifter from Tagbilaran, Bohol, still can’t figure out how she pulled off the twin feats.

“I’m not sure. I don’t really know,” she said, laughing. “I just went to the stage and enjoyed my game.”

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Still the standard

Tony Agustin (standing, middle) watches as Rose Jean Ramos, a young lifter already making waves in the junior circuit, trains at the Hidilyn Diaz Weightlifting Gym at Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. —FRANCIS T. J. OCHOA

Tony Agustin (standing, middle) watches as Rose Jean Ramos, a young lifter already making waves in the junior circuit, trains at the Hidilyn Diaz Weightlifting Gym at Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. —FRANCIS T. J. OCHOA

One thing she understands now is that she has given the sport another face, apart from Hidilyn Diaz-Naranjo, the Olympic heroine who remains the standard that all weightlifters will be measured against. The more people soak up news about Diaz-Naranjo—and now, Sarno—the more popular weightlifting becomes.

“These kids all got inspired when Hidi (Diaz-Naranjo) won a silver in (the 2016) Rio [de Janeiro Olympics]. Suddenly, our sport became bigger with more and more people getting interested,’’ said longtime coach Tony Agustin.

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When Diaz-Naranjo won gold in Tokyo in 2021 to break the country’s title-less spell in the Summer Games, the sport, Agustin said, “became even bigger.”

And now they’re using that visibility as a platform to hunt down more talents. And in the SEA Games, some of those young talents came to fore.

Teenagers Angeline Colonia (women’s 45 kg), Lovely Inan (49 kg) and Rosalinda Tabique (55 kg) landed silver medals in their respective weight categories as first-timers in these Games.

Sisters Rosegie and Rose Jean Ramos of Zamboanga City are currently dominating the junior ranks. There are even other hopefuls in Bohol: John Raphael Macato dreams of an Olympic stint someday while Dave Angelo Pacaldo, brother of national team mainstay Dave Llyod Pacaldo, are trying their luck in the sport.

Abundant pool

“Our main goal is to build young lifters for the Olympics,’’ said Agustin, one of the central figures in the development of Diaz-Naranjo from a shy kid from Zamboanga City to an Olympic medalist.

“If we win at the youth level, these victories should be sustained in the junior and senior levels. If we can achieve that, chances are strong that we can win the Olympics,’’ added Agustin.

Right now, the national weightlifting squad has an abundant pool of young future diamonds.

Dave Llyod Pacaldo and Kristel Macrohon may not have reached the podium but they’re looking ahead. Macrohon, in fact, also competed in the Asian championships along with Ando, Sarno, Diaz-Naranjo, SEA Games silver medalist John Febuar Ceniza, and bronze medalist John Tabique.

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“These kids saw how Hidi became successful with all the hard work, the passion and dedication. That’s how motivated they are,’’ said Agustin.

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