Philippine weightlifter Diaz hailed for historic Olympic gold

MANILA (AFP) – With their eyes glued to a television in the 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.

“We didn’t know what to feel because we were extremely happy.” After nearly 18 months training in exile in Malaysia because of COVID-19 restrictions, Diaz smashed her personal best and won gold with a final clean and jerk of 127kg in the women’s 55kg class.

The 30-year-old’s 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 (US) where he is training for his upcoming fight against American Errol Spence.

ABOVE & BELOW: Hidilyn Diaz of Philippines competes in the women’s 55kg weightlifting event, at the 2020 Summer Olympics; and Diaz celebrates with Weightlifting Philippines Federation President Monico Puntuevella after winning the gold medal. PHOTOS: AP

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 PHP33 million 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 residential condominium worth PHP14 million.

It could also prove a “game-changer” for other Filipino athletes, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said yesterday, acknowledging government financial support was insufficient.

“It’s as if our athletes are only getting minimum wage,” he said.

Diaz’s stunning victory was splashed across the front pages of Philippine newspapers and dominated Internet platforms.

The Philippine Star’s headline “Finally, Olympic Gold” reflected the collective relief of Filipinos at winning their first gold medal after 97 years of Olympic competition.

Diaz’s win was an inspiration for other women, said Karen Afurong, an instructional designer in Manila.

“We feel empowered,” the 29-year-old told AFP. Emelita said the family spoke with Diaz yesterday morning and congratulated her.

“I told her… ‘It’s a big honour to our family that you brought another honour to the country’,” Emelita told AFP via telephone.

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. Diaz has not seen her family since December 2019 and has spoken openly of the sacrifices she has made in pursuit of her dream.

But after a sleepless night, Diaz said yesterday she was already thinking about the Paris Olympics in 2024.

“Qualifying will be difficult, but if my strength is there I will continue,” she told reporters on Zoom.

“I cannot quit after winning. I need to continue until someone succeeds me.”