Gao Kaiwen, the Chinese coach behind Hidilyn’s historic gold

Published July 28, 2021, 8:28 PM

by Tito Talao

Hidilyn Diaz trains with “HD Team” Chinese coach Kaiwen Gao in Malaysia in preparation for this year’s Tokyo Olympics. (Screengrab from Diaz documentary “Let’s Go HD!” by Kick-Start Coffee Brewed Awakening)

TOKYO — It will be a soul-searching week for Tokyo Olympiad gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz when she flies home with her team, including Chinese coach Gao Kaiwen, Wednesday and proceeds straight to Sofitel from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to comply with the government’s seven-day quarantine travel protocol for returning residents.

“In those seven days, we told Hidilyn to think about what she really plans to do next,” said sports psychologist Dr. Karen Trinidad, who, along with nutritionist Jeanette Aro, were instrumental members of Team HD.

At 30, said weightlifting president Monico Puentevella, Diaz has the option to rest on her laurels and start a family.

“After all, she has paid her dues and done the nation a great service,” said Puentevella, who took the same Philippine Airlines flight as Diaz that left Japan around noon.

“I told her ‘that she has nothing else to prove,’” said Puentevella.

Unless, that is, Diaz wants to go on competing, as she has indicated during a media zoom interview arranged by Philippine Olympic Committee president Bambol Tolentino Tuesday morning, the day after her historic gold medal victory.

“In that case,” said Puentevella said, “I will have to count Hidilyn in with Vanessa Sarno, Kristel Macrohon and, of course, Elreen Ando as among our bets for the Paris Olympics in 2024.”

Which means, Gao, who took over the reins of training Diaz before the 2018 Asian Games, where she won a gold medal, may have to wait a little longer before being able to return home to China.

Puentevella explains: “We cautioned coach Gao Kaiwen that he could no longer return to his native China for the simple reason that his ward Hidilyn beat a Chinese Olympic record holder.

“But that’s of course a joke, and everyone had a good laugh, including Coach Gao.” 

The famed mentor of Chen Xiexia, 48kg Olympic gold medalist in Beijing, and 

Zhou Lulu, who also took the gold in 75kg in London, is credited by Diaz for her golden success here.

“Coach Gao made a difference in my lifts,” Diaz was quoted as saying. “He’s a positive person and I like to have him around me.”

Gao’s experience and track record proved of immense value to Diaz, who has improved tremendously after failing to make the podium in Beijing and London.

Introducing into her training regimen novel routines and heavier weights, Gao had steered Diaz to new territory with amazing results.

Diaz lifted 92kg in the snatch and 115kg in the clean and jerk three years ago to win the Asian Games, 7kg heavier than her Olympic silver medal total, according to reports.

And last Monday at the Tokyo International Forum, against Chinese world record holder Quiyun Liao, a lifter Diaz has never beaten before, said Puentevella, the four-time Olympic veteran shattered those marks at a weight division 2kg heavier, with 97kg in snatch and an ascending series of 119kg, 124kg and the massive 127kg in the clean and jerk for the long-coveted gold medal.

Watching from side of the stage, admiring his handiwork as celebration erupted, was Hidilyn Diaz’s Chinese coach Gao Kaiwen, who may have to do some soul-searching of his own in the next seven days while his prized ward contemplates what to do next after her heroic feat.