World champ Diaz leads December achievers

Hidilyn Diaz celebrates her victory at the 2022 International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Weightlifting Championships in Bogota, Colombia. (Photo from Monico Puentevella)

Proving she is far from over the hill, Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz achieved another milestone in her storied career at the 88th IWF World Weightlifting Championships in Bogota, Colombia in early December.

After failing to capture gold in her five previous appearances in the world meet, Diaz, no longer a spring chicken at 31, hoisted herself and the country to a golden treble in sweeping the women’s 55-kilogram class at the Gran Carpa Americas Corferias Convention Center in the Colombian capital.

In an early Christmas gift, the Zamboanga City pride ruled the weight division with a lift of 93 kilos in the snatch and 114 kg. in the clean-and-jerk for a total lift of 207 kg. in her victorious breakthrough at the worlds that also served as the first qualifying meet for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

It marked the last time competing in the weight class for Diaz, who will shift and train in the heavier 59-kg division that will be contested in the Summer Games barely a year from now after the 55-kg category was dropped from the Olympic roster of evets.

On the collegiate side, Ateneo regained the UAAP men’s basketball championship by dethroning tormentor University of the Philippines, 75-68, in a winner-take-all Game 3 played before 21,814 fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Naturalized player Ange Kouame was named Finals MVP.

Over at the NCAA, Letran made history by winning its third straight men’s basketball title by blowing away College of St. Benilde, 81-67, in the do-or-die Game 3 at the Ynares Center in Antipolo. King Caralipio was the Finals MVP as he helped the Knights duplicate the same three-peat pulled off by the Samboy Lim-led Letran team from 1982-84.

Behind the heroics of power-hitting American import Lindsey Van Derweide, the underdog Petro Gazz Angels captured the Premier Volleyball League Reinforced crown in sweeping the Cignal HD Spikers in their best-of-3 title playoffs.   

The charges of coach Raid Ricafort took Game 1 in straight sets 25-21, 27-25, 37-36, then clinched their second PVL championship in subduing the wards of coach Shaq delos Santos in four hard-fought sets 25-17, 22-25, 12-25, 25-21 in Game 2 in front of a lively crowd at the Philsports Arena.

Van Derweide bagged both MVP Finals and Best Foreign Guest Player honors, while teammate Mar-Jana Philips was cited as Best Middle Blocker of the tournament.

Still in volleyball, the NU Bulldogs took down the UST Tiger Spikers 25-23, 25-23, 25-21 in the championship match to capture the V-League Collegiate Men’s title at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum.

The Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards sustained their winning ways under coach Jerson Cabiltes, securing the Season 4 title of the Maharlika Basketball League by beating the Zamboanga Family Brand Sardines 69-65 in Game 4 of their best-of-5 title series at the Mayor Vitaliano Agan Coliseum in Zamboanga City.

Byron Villarias paced the Vanguards with 14 points, 10 rebounds and two steals, sweeping both Best Player of the Game and Most Valuable Player Finals honors, as they bagged their fifth straight crown under Cabiltes.

Back in the limelight was Pinoy ring icon Manny Pacquiao, who figured in a goodwill exhibition match for a cause with South Korean mixed martial arts fighter DK Woo at the Korea International Exhibition Center in Seoul.

In a battle between two 41-year-old southpaws, Pacman, still exuding his popular appeal, showed flashes of his vintage form in playing around with his South Korean rival on the way to an expected unanimous decision victory.

Youth sports also made its mark again with the return of the hybrid Batang Pinoy National Championships held online and face-to-face at the Ilocos Sur provincial capital of Vigan.

It was the last project under former Philippine Sports Commission chairman Jose Emmanuel ‘Noli’ Eala, who was replaced by former pro player and Alaska team manager Richard ‘Dickie’ Bachmann, who received his appointment papers from Malacanang on Dec. 23.

Also joining him on the PSC board were newly-appointed commissioners Edward Hayco, a former Cebu City Sports Commission chairman, and former national fencer and Philippine Paralympic Committee secretary general Walter Torres.