by Ding MarceloHidilyn Diaz was already shedding tears of joy knowing that she had the bronze medal secured in the women’s weightlifting 53 kg. division during the last moments of competition at the Riocentro Pavillion on Sunday. But what followed next was short of surreal as a Chinese lifter bound for a gold medal finish failed on her three attempts at the clean and jerk, taking her out of the medal race, and turning Diaz’s bronze into a silver medal.
Near pandemonium broke among the small crowd of Filipino supporters. They hugged each other, some cried as Diaz pulled off what will be regarded as the one of the biggest surprises in the history of Philippine sports.
When the dust settled, Diaz had made history by becoming the first Filipino female athlete to win an Olympic medal and the first weightlifter, male or female, to turn the trick.
She also ended a 20-year medal drought for the country where, in post-war Olympics, all four medals came from boxing.
Among the first to congratulate her was President Duterte.
“The Philippines and the President is honored and proud of Hidilyn Diaz’s silver medal win at the Rio Olympics,” Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
“We extend our sincerest congratulations and celebrate the end of the medal drought. Truly change has come,” Abella added.
Her feat will not go unrewarded. No less than P5 million will be hers for winning the silver and most likely, millions more when all the pledges are counted.
Diaz lifted a total of 200 kilos, 112 kilos in the clean and jerk and 88 kilos in the snatch. That was supposed to be good for just a bronze.
But China’s Li Yajun, nearly sure of a gold after breaking the Olympic mark in the snatch, wanted to go the extra mile and tried to lift 126 kilos in the clean and jerk. She failed in all three attempts, giving her a zero in the category and Diaz moved to second.
The gold went to Shu-Ching Chinese Taipei who lifted a total of 212 kgs. or 12 kgs. ahead of Diaz, while the bronze medal was won by Yoon Jun Hee of South Korea who lifted 199 kilos.
“Thank God, I won,” said Diaz after the event.
Diaz became the fifth athlete to win an Olympic medal since 1964 and the third to take a silver. The two others were boxers – Anthony Villanueva in 1964 in Tokyo and Mansueto Velasco in 1996 in Atlanta.
She also put herself in that rarefied group as she became just the 10th Olympic medalist in Philippine history since the our nation started competing in this quadrennial event nearly a century ago.
It’s been a long journey for the 25-year-old from Zamboanga City whose trek to stardom had been a combination of heartaches and joy.
While some athletes had rejoiced in having gone to one Olympics, making it the pinnacle of their sporting lives, Diaz was competing in her third in Rio.
But her first two were big disappointments. She was a raw 17-year-old when she competed as a wildcard and youngest lifter in Beijing in 2008 and finished 10th out of 12 competitors. In 2012 during the London Olympics, she did not finish after failing in the clean and jerk. The highlight of London was her carrying the Philippine flag at the opening ceremony.
And in Rio, the focus was on the boxers, who were designated as the country’s medal hopes.
But one of the two boxers in the team, Charly Suarez, fell by the wayside on his opening match last Saturday. Two other athletes were also soundly eliminated on the first day of competition for the Philippine team when Ian Lariba lost in table tennis and Jessie Lacuña was near to last among swimmers in the 400m freestyle event.
It was under this dark mood that Diaz went to the competition hall.
But she was upbeat, almost confident that she would win a medal.
“I expected to win the bronze going to this competition,” she said. But when the medal turned to silver, she said she was shocked.
“Na-shock ako nung sinabi sa akin na na-zero yung China (and I won the silver,” she said.
The turning point in Diaz’s career maybe the decision of her coach Elbert Atilano to make her compete in the 53 kilos division instead of 58 kilos which she was in Beijing in London.
Since sliding down, Diaz had won several competitions, among them a gold medal in the Asian Championships in Phuket, Thailand last year and three bronzes in the world championships in Houston that earned her the Rio berth.
Lost in the wild celebration from Diaz’s achievement was the failure of the other weightlifter in the Philippine team, Nestor Tolomia, to make the grade in the men’s 56 kg. competition.
Tolomia, competing after Diaz, had no total lift under his belt and his performance was designated as DNF or did not finish.
But former weightlifting association president Monico Puentevella had kind words for the Tolomia who is competing in his first Olympics, saying there is the Russia Olympics to look forward to in 2020.
Puentevella had predicted Diaz’s breakthrough moment, saying it had its beginnings not in Beijing or London but last year when Diaz won three gold medals in the Asian Championships.
“I am not part of the official delegation, but I came here to watch Hidilyn because I knew she would win a medal,” Puentevella said yesterday by phone.