TOKYO — In the suspense-filled breathless end, with everything on the line and an entire nation on knife’s edge as the XXXII Olympiad weightlifting crown came down to a final heave, the Philippines’ Hidilyn Diaz proved she was worth every ounce of her weight in gold.
Diaz, silver medalist in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, went to a heavier weight on her third and last lift in the 55kg category after the Chinese world record holder Quiyun Liao lifted 126 kilograms on their third attempt in the clean & jerk to go up by one kilogram overall.
Going for 127kgs, which would go down as an Olympic record and put her on top, Diaz loaded all her talent, experience and hard work to end the nation’s 97 years of fruitless campaign for a first-ever gold medal in the Games into one final lift and made history as fans of Team Philippines — from coaches, sports officials and even the media — erupted in joyous celebration late Monday at the Tokyo International Forum.
“Hindi ako makapaniwala, lalo na Olympic record pa,” said Diaz in a trembling voice before she was whisked off to the mixed zone interview.
“Nasorpresa ako na nagawa ko yon. Mga kababayan ko dyan sa Pilipinas, at mga prayer warriors ko, maraming salamat. Sa lahat ng sumoporta, nakayanan natin sa kabila ng maraming pagsubok.”
She shot two fists into the air and yelled in triumph even before the ‘good lift’ was announced.
Diaz tied with Liao at 97 kgs after the snatch category, a kilogram behind Uzbekistan’s Muattar Nabieva, who lifted 98kgs but imploded in the clean & jerk after failing at 114 kgs and 117 kgs.
Kazakhstan’s Zulfiya Chinshanlo issued a momentary challenge after completing 123 kgs on her second attempt but ultimately withered in the heat of the duel between Diaz and Liao, both of whom raised the bar in breathless sequence.
The Chinese lifted 118, 123 and 126kgs in the clean & jerk, but Diaz answered with 119, 124 and that mind-boggling 127 kgs.
And finally, after several near misses in what amounts to 100 years of solitude, the Philippine national anthem was played and the flag raised for gold medal reason, with Diaz, an Air Force officer, saluting the flag and singing onstage, tears streaming down her face.
She had a total of 224 kgs to Liao’s 223 kgs.
The silver medals won by boxers Anthony Villanueva in 1964 in Tokyo and Mansueto ‘Onyok’ Velasco in 1996 in Atlanta, and Diaz’s own from Rio, now has glittering company in the country’s Olympic treasure chest, along with seven bronze medals.
Amazingly, Tokyo, where the pandemic forced a one-year delay from 2020, is also where the Philippines won its first silver medal, Diaz becoming the country’s first multi-medal winner after the legendary Teofilo Yldefonso in 1928 in Amsterdam and 1932 in Los Angeles.
With the monkey off their backs, Diaz teammates in the national team, including weightlifting colleague Elreen Ando, who competes Tuesday, judoka Kiyomi Watanabe, the four boxers led by quarterfinalist Nesthy Petecio, gymnastics hope Carlos Yulo, track and field’s Kristina Knott and EJ Obiena, and the golfing trio, including US Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso could all buckle down in their bids follow Diaz’s golden trail.
Liao’s coach, through an interpreter, said his ward bore no regret for losing because “she did her best” and that she lost to a very good opponent “who remained stable through the competition.”