Diaz keeps Olympic dream alive
JAKARTA, Indonesia — No matter how great the odds stacked against the Filipinos, their dream of winning the gold medal in the Olympics is very much alive.
On a balmy Tuesday night, Hidilyn Diaz lifted that dream closer to reality.
Diaz delivered the country’s first gold medal here when she ruled the women’s -53kg weightlifting competition of the 18th Asian Games at the Jakarta International Expo Hall.
The 27-year-old Zamboanga native registered a winning lift of 207 kilograms (kgs), leaving Kristina Shermetova of Turkmenistan and Khambao Surodchana of Thailand settling for the bronze and silver medals.
It was a victory that inspired the nation.
With the national athletes settling for bronze medals in the third day of competition, Diaz provided a ray of hope that the Filipinos are still capable of emerging victorious in the international stage.
“I’m grateful to God that I won the gold medal that all of us, Filipinos, have been dreaming of,” said the teary-eyed Diaz after cementing her name as the best lifter in Asia in her weight category.
“This only proves that winning the Olympic gold medal is still possible,” Diaz told Daily Tribune’s Asiad coverage supported by Primehomes.
Diaz’s path to the Asian Games gold was littered with tears and frustrations.
After emerging with a silver medal in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, Diaz had to struggle with pressure, anxiety and other distractions.
She started by settling for the silver medal in the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Turkmenistan last year, fueling talks she was downhill.
With the pressure building up, the only way to shut up the critics was bag an Asian Games gold medal.
“In the Olympics last year, nobody expected me to win a silver medal. But here, everybody was expecting me to win,” said Diaz, a servicewoman at the Philippine Air Force.
“So, for two months, three months, I couldn’t sleep properly. I was so stressed, but I still go to training. I just prayed and surrendered all the pain and pressure that I felt,” she said.
“Asian Games offer a different kind of pressure. It’s a higher level of competition. All the world-caliber athletes are here and competing for the gold,” Diaz added.
Little did she know that two months before the Asian Games, her stars would align.
Only last June, the Chinese Taipei lifter who beat Diaz in the Rio Olympics announced her resignation.
Hsu Shu-ching, who also ruled the London Olympics, kissed her athletic career goodbye after being hampered with injuries following a grueling battle in the World Weightlifting Championship.
With Hsu out and another elite lifter in Zulfiya Chinshanlo of China serving a two-year suspension after testing positive for use of banned substance, the door to an Asian Games gold swung wide open for Diaz.
“Yes, I was expecting to win the gold medal. That’s why I’m pressured. I know I can win it,” she said, admitting that everything was drawn perfectly for her to grab the elusive Asian Games gold.
“The Taipei (lifter) is not here. She’s already retired. The Chinese lifter is also not here. So, I told myself, this is my time,” she said.
“That’s why when I saw the (performance of the) Turkmenistan lifter fell to 116 kgs, I told myself that the gold medal is already mine. If she fails on her third attempt, I will definitely win the gold.”
The ecstasy of victory has yet to subside, but Diaz is already training her sights on winning the Olympic gold, a feat that has been eluding her for the past 10 years.
“It can be done,” she said. “The Olympic gold medal can still be won.”
This time, she’s ready.
And she has a shiny Asian Games gold hanging around her neck to serve as inspiration.
Diaz received accolades from all fronts.
Sen. Sonny Angara yesterday said he is set to file a resolution commending Diaz and other Filipino medalists in the Asiad. Angara said Diaz will likely receive P6 million in incentives, including an amount set aside by the law he authored for athletes’ bonuses.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines also congratulated Diaz for her feat, describing the Airwoman First Class Diaz as “the epitome of diligence, perseverance, hard work and dedication not only of every airman, soldier, sailor and Marine, but of every Filipino who triumphs over all adversities and challenges.”
With Kathleen Mae Bulquerin
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