Top Filipino lifters out to strengthen Olympic case
Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz-Naranjo and former Asian champion Vanessa Sarno remain on track to turn up at the 2024 Paris Olympics, along with Cebuano lifter John Febuar Ceniza.
And the three hope to solidify their positions during the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships beginning on Tuesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
While pocketing a medal is certainly a target, their chief priority is to simply surpass the global tournament by staying within range of an Olympic qualification ticket.
“No promises [of winning a medal]. We’re at the world championships to compete since this is an Olympic qualifying, a prelude to the real thing,’’ said Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas president Monico Puentevella.
Diaz-Naranjo, the nation’s first and only Olympic gold winner, moved up to 59 kilograms after her weight class in the 2021 Tokyo Summer Games (women’s 55 kg) was scrubbed from the Paris program.
Chasing a fifth straight Olympic appearance, Diaz-Naranjo ruled the 55 kg in last year’s worlds held in Bogota, Colombia.
But the atmosphere is entirely different in a much heavier category as Diaz-Naranjo met stiffer resistance at 59 kg and landed fourth in the 2023 Asian Weightlifting Championships in Jinji, South Korea.
Diaz-Naranjo is inside the top 10 after two qualification tournaments and should remain there after her competition on Friday. Another Filipino Olympic hopeful is fellow Tokyo Olympian Elreen Ando, who was forced to slide from 64 kg and will join Diaz-Naranjo in the competition.
Sarno got a silver medal in the women’s 71 kg of the Asian championships and looks to build on that when the 19-year-old from Tagbilaran City, Bohol, goes up the stage on Sept. 13 together with Kristel Macrohon.
Ceniza has been a pleasant surprise, slowly firming up his spot in the men’s 61 kg after with a fifth-place finish in the Asian championships after clinging to 10th in the 2022 world championships.
He will see action on Wednesday after Rosegie Ramos and Lovely Inan open the nation’s bid in Riyadh in the women’s 49 kg on Tuesday.
“I want to be in the Olympics. This is my chance, so I’m working doubly hard in training,’’ said Ceniza, the 2020 World Cup bronze medalist in the same weight class.
After the Saudi world championships, two more mandatory tournaments are lined up—the 2024 Asian championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on Feb. 20 to Feb. 27 and the 2024 IWF World Cup in Phuket, Thailand, on April 2 to April 11.
The Olympic window closes on April 28, 2024.
Aside from making it through the IWF Olympic Qualification Ranking following five qualifying tournaments, Diaz-Naranjo, Sarno and Ceniza can automatically clinch the Paris spots by topping the Uzbekistan Asian championships. INQ