KUALA LUMPUR, July 27 — Weightlifter and newly-minted Olympic gold medallist Hidilyn Diaz from the Philippines proves that champions can be made anywhere — even a kampung house in Melaka.
Few would have doubted Diaz’s single-minded focus in wanting to win an Olympic gold medal, a dream she had harboured since her first Olympics in 2008 at the age of 18.
But securing her place in the record books would require determination, hard work and perseverance.
Diaz’s journey to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games began when she moved to an apartment in Kuala Lumpur in February 2020 on advice of her Chinese coach Gao Kaiwen and began training in the city.
Once the Covid-19 pandemic hit, however, everything was brought to a standstill and she improvised by using bamboo sticks and large water bottles as impromptu weightlifting equipment.
In October 2020, she and her team relocated to a kampung house in Jasin, Melaka where they initially were able to train at a gym nearby.
Due to tighter restrictions, the gym was forced to close, leaving Diaz with no choice but to train in her backyard with a makeshift gym.
She spent more than a year in isolation without her family members and only her trainers for company.
Eventually, Diaz paid her dues with convincing in-competition showings.
She finished fourth in her first warm-up tournament, the Asian Championships in Tashkent in April 2021. It was enough to get her qualified for Tokyo.
Upon returning to Malaysia, she had to quarantine for 10 days, six confined to a hotel room.
She saw out the final four days back at the house in Jasin, relying on an exercise bike, dumbbells and rubber power bands to maintain her fitness and strength.
Undeterred, the 30-year-old knew she stood a good chance of winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics where she would be competing in the 55kg category, having won silver in Rio 2016 in her third consecutive appearance in the women's 53kg weightlifting category.
Yesterday, Diaz, a Sergeant in the Philippine Air Force, not only won gold but smashed the Olympic record (OR) en route.
With a 97kg snatch and a flawless series of 119kg, 124kg and 127kg (OR) in her three clean and jerk attempts, she set a new Olympic record with a combined weight of 224kg (OR).
She and her entire team were in tears as they knew their toughest opponents would be the Chinese whom she beat comfortably.
Diaz had always said that cutting weight was the most difficult part of training as she loves her native country’s food and she struggled during the lockdown. However, she produced her finest performance yesterday.
Speaking to AFP, Diaz said she can finally enjoy a proper meal and that the hard work and sacrifice was worth it.
“I mean I’ve been sacrificing my food, and this is the time to celebrate together with the people who are behind me. So I’m really thankful I can eat now, yes,” said the 30-year-old who stands just 1.58 metres.
Diaz is an example of a great champion and Olympian.
She embraced the challenge and took on the massive expectations her nation had for her to bring home its first-ever gold medal.
The daughter of a tricycle driver in a poor village near Zamboanga, Diaz has not seen her family since December 2019.
“I’m looking forward to enjoying life because I have been in Malaysia for, I don’t know, almost two years so I’m really thankful I can go home now and celebrate with my family and the people who support me,” she told AFP at the Tokyo International Forum after being presented with her gold medal.
“I don’t know if I’m a national hero. But I’m thankful that God used me to inspire all the young generation and all the Philippines people to keep fighting during this pandemic,” she said.
Hidilyn Diaz’s long march to Olympic gold: A timeline
>> Competed in the women's 58kg class, 17-year-old Diaz lifted 85kg in the snatch and 107kg in the clean and jerk for a 192kg total, breaking the Philippine record that she herself set at the 2007 Southeast Asian Games.
>> Diaz was flag bearer
>> Lifted 97kg snatch and 118kg clean and jerk.
>> After successfully clinching a lift of 88kg in her second attempt in snatch event and 111kg and 112kg in the first and second attempts in the clean and jerk event she placed second overall.
>> Trained in a kampung house in Jasin Melaka for almost two years.
>> Win’s gold rewriting Olympic record with a 97kg snatch and a flawless series of 119kg, 124kg and 127kg in her three clean and jerk attempts.