Hidilyn Diaz’s Olympic gold mirrors a nation’s lofty aspirations

Published July 28, 2021, 12:03 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Hidilyn Diaz lifted the weight of the Filipinos’ hopes and expectations on her shoulders, then hoisted the bar overhead with a record-breaking lift to deliver the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal ever in 97 years of its participation in the quadrennial games.

The victory capped a 12-year journey that began in Beijing when, as a wildcard entry at age 17, she became the first Filipina weightlifter to compete in the 2008 Olympics. While she broke the Southeast Asian Games record she set earlier, she finished second to last but gained valuable experience in international competition.  She was our flag-bearer at the 2012 London Olympics but failed to make the grade after several unsuccessful attempts.

Diaz’s silver medal in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games followed boxer Anthony Villanueva’s unprecedented feat in the 1964 Tokyo Games.  Interviewed in 2019, she waxed prophetic: “I won gold in the 2018 Asian Games (Jakarta) and gold, too in the SEA Games (Clark Field); I claim the 2020 Tokyo Olympics gold.”

During the year-long postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she underwent rigorous training in Malaysia with her HD (her initials) Team made up of head coach Kaiwen Gao from China, and strength and conditioning coach Julius Naranjo.  A few days before the opening ceremony in Tokyo, she was also joined by sports nutritionist Jeaneth Aro and sports psychologist Dr. Karen Trinidad.

She received substantial support from the MVP Sports Foundation of business tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan who, like San Miguel CEO Ramon S. Ang, pledged a P10 million cash prize to Olympic gold medal winners.  These amounts match the incentives provided for them under Republic Act 10699. Millions of Filipino fans are hoping that our first Olympic gold medalist will receive her well-deserved rewards tax-free — and that the Philippine Sports Commission will give her incentive prize promptly.

The road to Olympic gold was thorny and torturous.  With the desolation brought on by the pandemic, Hidilyn – like all other Olympic hopefuls – overcame formidable challenges.  In social media posts, she shared her episodes of high anxiety, sleeplessness, and worry brought on by tremendous pressure. She confided turning to yoga to attain a greater measure of serenity and equanimity.

Her HD initials could as well stand for hard work and determination, buttressed with perseverance and focus.  Like C-suite business executives seeking to set new performance records, Olympic-class athletes attain peak levels of physical strength, athletic agility and fine-tuned focus while painstakingly homing in on the target prize.

On the evening of July 26, after many Filipinos listened to their President’s final State of the Nation Address for nearly three hours, many more witnessed an incredible feat that was unfolding in the Tokyo Olympics women’s weightlifting competition.

Flashback to another night 52 years ago, on July 19, 1969, in Miami Beach Florida when an 18-year old Filipina, Gloria Diaz, was crowned Miss Universe.  Literally, her name translates into Glorious Day.

Hidilyn Diaz made it an HD Day, a day of triumph for hard work and determination.  After receiving the prized gold medal, the gritty, talented Filipina – also a Philippine Air Force sergeant – made a snappy salute to our flag as the hushed crowd listened to our national anthem, Lupang Hinirang (Land of the Morning) played for the first time since the country joined the Olympics 97 years ago.

Mabuhay, Hidilyn Diaz!