“Goal is Gold” and the gold she got. Get to know the woman who brought Philippine sports back to fame.
Hidilyn Diaz, the first-ever Filipino who grabbed the highest Olympic medal shared in her Instagram post three weeks before her historic win—little did she know that the Philippines will forever hail her name with all might, from right when she steps foot on stage, up to her triumphant scream after lifting them up to skies.
Diaz is now the first-ever Filipino who stepped on the Olympic podium and won the gold medal in a weightlifting tournament in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, in her form, 97kg in the snatch and an Olympic record of 127kg in the clean and jerk for a total of 224kg, also an Olympic record.
This is Hidilyn Diaz before medals and awards:
“Heidy,” who is dearly called by her family and friends, was raised in a family of eight in Mampang, Zamboanga City. She and her five siblings weren’t raised on a silver platter.
As a matter of fact, she would sell fish and vegetables around their village with her father, Eduardo Diaz, who is a tricycle driver. The little girl who once peddled her way out of poverty, now got her name embedded in Philippine sports history.
She discovered her passion for heavy lifting when she was 11. Her cousin, Allen Jayfrus Diaz taught her the basics of weightlifting with homemade barbells. Good thing, young Heidy welcomed the sport wholeheartedly.
She attended the University of Zamboanga and took up Computer Science, stopped on her third year in college, and decided to focus on the sport once and for all.
She debuted her weightlifting career when she was listed as the first female weightlifter to represent the Philippines and second in the world during the 2008 Olympics in China.
The 17-year-old Heidy ranked 11th among 12 competitors after lifting 85kg in the snatch and 107kg in the clean and jerk for a 192kg total as a wildcard entry. Despite her loss, the young athlete was praised as she finished strong despite her young age.
Philippine Sports Commission Chairman William Ramirez even commented that she competed there to gain valuable experience and predicted that she would be a strong contender.
The next goal for the Filipina weightlifter was to bounce back in the 2012 London Olympics. For her to get qualified, she had to compete for the Continental and World Qualifying Tournaments and succeeded in the 58kg women’s tournament. It was then her ticket but she wasn’t able to snag the Olympic medal.
Unknownst to many, Heidy responded to her call of duty as a Filipino citizen and served the country as a recruit of the Philippine Army through the Direct Enlistment Program in 2013.
In 2014, she was given a promotion from the rank of Airwoman to Airwoman Second Class. Diaz was also a recipient of a Military Merit Medal for organizing PAF events and a Presidential Citation Unit Badge. When Diaz was training for her stint at the 2016 Summer Olympics, she was assigned to PAF Personnel Management Center temporarily. For her achievement at the Olympics, she was given a promotion by the PAF.
Proving Filipino resiliency, Heidy went back to training and persevered to step on the podium once again, thrust the 53kg barrel in the 1st Southeast Asian Weightlifting Championship in Bangkok, and won the gold medal.
In the same year, she also earned three bronze medals for the clean, jerk, and snatch events in the 53kg division of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Weightlifting Championship held in Texas in November 2015, claiming her spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
For an athlete who once saw defeat right before her eyes, there’s nothing else to do but to redeem herself on the world stage and snapback.
In the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Diaz competed in the women’s 53kg weightlifting category, eyeing the bronze medal. Heidy outdid herself, went home, making her grab the first silver medal for the country after 20 years. Her recognition was also the first non-boxing medal for the Philippines since 1936.
Moreover, she is the first Filipina weightlifter to compete in three consecutive years in the Olympics and the first Mindanaoan to win the Olympic medal.
From then on, Diaz continues to write her own story as an athlete for the Philippines to take pride in— a heroine kind of masterpiece that’s worth every page.
On August 8, 2016, she returned to her hometown, Zamboanga City, and was welcomed as a Hero of the City. She also received numerous incentives from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the Philippine Sports Commission.
In 2017, she was granted a scholarship to study business management at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde and became a student-athlete for a while.
She was able to win the 2017 World Championship and snagged a bronze medal adding to her wall of fame.
Despite her leaving school, she was awarded by the Philippine Sportswriter Association as the Athlete of the Year because of her achievements.
As part of the preparation for the Olympics, she has to secure herself awards and one of which is her gold medals from the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in Manila, the 2019 World Championship, and the Roma 2020 World Cup in the women’s 55kg event sealing her way to the international multi-sport event.
But just like any other athlete, before all the medals, most of the people may have not seen the mishaps and bullying that happened. It’s a tough crowd out there and as of writing, several stories are resurfacing about Diaz’s concern on the lack of support from the government via her Instagram post in 2019.
Undeterred by her wins for the country, she was accused as a leftist and red-tagged as an “Oust Duterte matrix suspect.” Diaz feared for life but tried to shrug off the issue and focus on her goal — the Olympic gold.
Diaz’s journey at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics:
Monday evening on July 26, 2021, the whole Philippines rejoiced from their screens when Diaz revived the Olympic drought for the country. As of writing, the Philippines is now on the Top 20 Olympic scoreboard garnering one gold medal from the weightlifting prodigy.
She bested eight other delegates in her category, including the then world record holder Liao Quiyun of China with 221kg, and Chinshanlo of Kazakhstan with 213kg when she lifted 97kg in the snatch and 127kg in the clean and jerk with a combined total of 224kg.
Heidy dropped the barrel, cried in triumph as she looked back to her team, and breathlessly took a bow for the Philippines as she walked out of stage victoriously.
Pinay power ruled the podium when Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski, an equestrian and an executive board member of the International Olympic Committee, gave the medal.
On the platform, she stood and saluted with pride as she sang in tears the “Lupang Hinirang,” making it the first time for the world to hear on the Olympic stage.
What are the awards that await Hidilyn?
Aside from the medal, huge prizes await for the Filipina athlete as she will also take PHP 10 million from the government as mandated by law, PHP 10 million from business tycoons Manny V. Pangilinan and Ramon S. Ang, PHP 3 million from Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero, a PHP 2.5 million from Zamboanga City local government, PHP 5 million from Dennis Uy of Phoenix Fuel, and PHP 200,000 from Angeles City, Pampanga local government.
In addition to the cash incentives, private sectors also pledged to honor the gold medalist with different fringe benefits like Megaworld’s commitment to giving Diaz a PHP 14 million condo unit in Eastwood City, house and lot in Tagaytay from Philippine Olympic president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, a lifetime free flights from Air Asia, a lifetime free fuel from Phoenix, 80,000 lifetime free miles per year from the Philippine Airlines, and a 13-seater Transvan from Foton.
Local businesses also extended their congratulations to the Pinoy champ in their own ways; a lifetime breakfast in all Kanto Freestyle Breakfast branches, and a one-year supply of milktea from Cha Tuk Chak.
Weight has been lifted on her shoulders as she will now take it easy and see what she misses the most — family.
“I’m looking forward to enjoying life because I have been in Malaysia for, I don’t know, almost two years, so I’m really thankful I can go home now and celebrate with my family and the people who support me,” she told AFP at the Tokyo International Forum after being presented with her gold medal.
The Philippines will forever remember her symbolic victory, as a woman of firsts — centering herself to God, the country, its people, and the sport.
Photo Credit: www.instagram.com/hidilyndiaz/