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Hero’s welcome awaits Hidilyn

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RIO DE JANEIRO – Rio Olympics silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz bid her teammates goodbye Tuesday then boarded an Emirates flight back to the Philippines where she will be treated like a queen the moment she lands at the airport.

Diaz joined the Philippine delegation here in a thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Philippine Olympic Committee. From the restaurant, she and fellow weightlifter Nestor Colonia, and coach Alfonso Aldanete were brought to the airport.

They were scheduled to depart at 2 a.m. Wednesday for a journey that will take at least 25 hours via Dubai. POC second vice president Col. Jeff Tamayo accompanied the small but victorious group in the long flight back home.

Diaz was toasted and cheered during the dinner of Brazilian steak, salad and wine. The Philippine Ambassador to
Brazil, Jose Burgos, graced the affair, among other guests, including Brazilians who work for the Games.

The 25-year-old Diaz, who gave the Philippines its first Olympic medal in 20 years, held back her tears as she bid her teammates, including those who are still in contention, goodbye. Most of them have been here in Rio since July 23.

“Excited na ako umuwi pero malungkot din ako kasi iiwan ko na kayo. Napamahal na ako sa lahat ng kasama ko dito,” said Diaz, who added that she can’t wait to see her parents, Eduardo and Emelita, once she arrives in Manila.

Diaz’ parents will be flown to Manila from Zamboanga City. From the NAIA Terminal 3, the country’s first weightlifter to win an Olympic medal will be taken to Resorts World where she and her family, and her two other companions will stay overnight.

A press conference is being planned at around 6 p.m. at the hotel. If plans push through, Diaz and company will be flown to Zamboanga City the following day on board a private plane courtesy of sports patron Manny V. Pangilinan.

Diaz wants to spend time with her family and enjoy the fiesta in their place in Mambang in Zamboanga on Sunday.

There’s also word that President Duterte wants to see Diaz as early as possible and the meeting could take place in Davao.

“Good luck sa inyo. Kaya niyo yan,” said Diaz, referring to six of her teammates who are still seeing action it the Rio Olympics.

They are swimmer Jasmine Alkhaldi, who will race in the women’s 100m freestyle at 1 p.m. Wednesday, golfer Miguel Tabuena who will compete from Aug. 11 to 14, marathoner Mary Joy Tabal who will race on Aug. 14, and long jumper Marestella Torres Sunang and 400m hurdles entry Eric Cray who will both see action on Aug. 16.

Taekwondo’s Kirstie Elaine Alora will be the last Filipino athlete to compete in this Summer Games, in the women’s +67 kg class on Aug. 20, which is the eve of the closing ceremony.

“Like everybody else in our team, I will do my best,” said Akhaldi, who’s in her second straight Olympics. She said she worked hard in training in Hawaii, under coach Jennifer Buffin, and hoped to do better than she did in 2012 in London.