Fireworks seen as Diaz, Ando collide

Could it be the passing of the torch?

Whatever they call it, the much-anticipated showdown between Hidilyn Diaz and Elreen Ando in the women’s 59-kilogram event of the 2023 Asian Weightlifting Championships in Jinju, South Korea this Sunday will steal the thunder from athletes competing in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games.

Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas president Monico Puentevella told Daily Tribune that the face-off between two of the country’s best lifters will be crucial as it will decide the outlook of the country’s weightlifting team in the Paris Olympics next year.

The 32-year-old Diaz is the queen of Philippine weightlifting.

She emerged as the country’s first Olympic gold medalist after posting a record-breaking 127 kgs in clean and jerk and a total weight of 224 kgs in the women’s 55-kg event of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

But the road to another Olympic crown will be treacherous.

The scrapping of the 55-kg division left Diaz with only two options: Slim down and compete in the 49-kg class or bulk up for the 59-kg event.

She and her team, headed by her trainer and husband Julius Naranjo, chose the latter.

Unfortunately for them, there’s a young lifter being groomed to rule the 59-kg class — Ando.

Despite competing in the women’s 64-kg event of the Tokyo Olympics, the 24-year-old pride of Cebu has been showing a lot of promise in the 59-kg class.

Just recently, she dominated the 2023 SWP Southeast Asian Games Qualifying Tournament with a record-breaking 125-kg lift in clean and jerk to eclipse the 123-kg performance she posted when she was just starting to campaign in the 59-kg event.

All in all, she lifted a total of 220 kgs after tallying 95 kgs in the snatch to reserve her ticket to the SEA Games that will be held in Phnom Penh.

Puentevella said Ando’s resolve will be greatly tested when she competes against Diaz in the Asian Championships, which stake valuable points needed for the Paris Olympics.

“The showdown between Hidilyn and Ando will be very crucial,” Puentevella said in a telephone conversation on Monday morning.

“We have two lifters who both came from poverty. One is already an Olympic champion and the other one is considered as a rising star. It’s going to be interesting to see who wants it more – the reigning champion or the future?”

Puentevella, who will join the team on its Korean trip, said both Diaz and Ando are not lacking in motivation.

“Well, Hidilyn wants to prove that she can still win despite moving to a higher weight category while Ando wants to protect her turf – the 59-kg class,” said Puentevella, adding that both athletes deserve to compete in Paris.

“Olympic ranking points are at stake. I’m sure both of them will go all out to win the Asian gold medal in the 59 (kgs). This is definitely going to be a showdown. Whoever is hungry, whoever wants it more, will emerge victorious.”

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