Sports

In winning gold, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz gives her nation a lift

Philippine weightlifter to get at least $900k and a house after historic feat

With their eyes glued to a television in southern Philippines, the family of weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz yelled "push, push, push!" as she hoisted the bar to win the country's first Olympic gold medal.

"Then we erupted in joy - we were shouting, some shed tears of joy," Emelita Diaz told AFP yesterday, a day after watching her daughter's historic performance in Tokyo - far from her hometown of Zamboanga.

More than 20 relatives, including nieces and nephews, crowded onto the porch of the family home to watch Diaz's performance, using a smartphone connected to their television.

They have not seen her in nearly 18 months as the 30-year-old, who had been training in Malaysia, did not go back home due to Covid-19 restrictions.

On Monday, Diaz smashed her personal best and won gold with a final clean and jerk of 127kg in the women's 55kg class.

Her triumph - which followed her silver medal in Rio five years ago - has made her a national hero, alongside the likes of boxing legend Manny Pacquiao.

"Thank you, Hidilyn Diaz, for the first-ever Olympic Gold for the Philippines! We are so proud of you!" Pacquiao tweeted from the United States, where he is training for his upcoming fight against American Errol Spence.

The feat is also a life-changing windfall for Diaz, the daughter of a tricycle driver on the southern island of Mindanao.

As a reward for winning gold, Diaz will receive at least 33 million pesos (S$900,000) from the government and private sector, as well as a house.

Property developer Megaworld Corporation also announced yesterday it would give the Philippine Air Force woman a condominium unit worth 14 million pesos.

BATTLING UNCERTAINTY

That is just reward for Diaz, who had not only been training hard, but also had to overcome issues due to Covid-19 restrictions.

As Malaysia imposed lockdowns, she and her coaches had to battle gym closures, lack of access to weightlifting equipment and the grinding uncertainty of whether the Games would be held at all.

For months, Diaz and her team were stuck in an apartment block in the capital Kuala Lumpur, where they had to be careful not to crack the tiled floor while training with weights.

But the tireless Diaz still managed to find time to raise money through online training sessions to distribute food packages to poor families back home who were suffering during coronavirus lockdowns.

Last October, she relocated to Malacca where they have been living in a house owned by a Malaysian weightlifting official.

She began using a nearby gym but restrictions were tightened again, forcing her to work out in the house's sweltering open-air carpark for the last few months.

But all that effort has paid off and she will be given a hero's welcome when she returns home.

"I don't know if I'm a national hero," she said.

"But I'm thankful that God used me to inspire all the young generation and all the Philippine people to keep fighting during this pandemic."

Having gone through so much, Diaz is ready to do it all again for Paris 2024.

"Qualifying will be difficult, but if my strength is there I will continue," she said. "I cannot quit after winning. I need to continue until someone succeeds me."

But first, she will allow herself to indulge in some sweet treats, cheesecake and bubble tea. - AFP

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