Philippines, 29 May 2024
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Diaz's long road to Asian Games gold

Hidilyn Diaz.

Did you know that had Hidilyn Diaz yielded to pressure the high priests of Philippine sports exerted on her to retire four years ago, the country?s 20-year Olympic medal draught wouldn?t have been broken in Rio de Janeiro in 2016?

And, too, our four-year thirst for an Asian Games gold medal wouldn?t have been quenched?

Having just satisfying the country?s two decades of craving for an Olympic medal in Rio and ending, too, our wait for an Asiad gold last Tuesday in the ongoing Games in Indonesia, the Filipino girl wonder is now eyeing to give her countrymen the much-coveted Olympic gold, hopefully in 2020 in Tokyo.

Diaz is looking forward to also win a Southeast Asian Games gold medal she hasn?t laid her hands on comes next year right here in the country and, likewise, satisfy the Filipinos? 68-year hunger for the much bigger world championship late this year.

Only Salvador del Rosario of the famous Del Rosario weightlifting clan had so far gifted the Philippines a world title when he won the clean and jerk discipline in the flyweight division during the world tourney held 1970 in Columbus, Ohio.

For failing to make the grade in her bid to secure a slot in the national contingent for the 2014 Asiad set in Incheon in South Korea, high-ranking official of the Philippine Olympic Committee asked her to hang her competition uniforms as she no longer deserved wearing them.

Diaz?s agony actually started when she failed making a dent the first two times she carried the country?s colors in the Games of the XXIX Olympics in Beijing in 2008 and four years later in London.

Prior to those unproductive stints in the ?Greatest Sorts Show on Earth?, Diaz also had unsuccessful appearances in the Asiad Games before Incheon and the Southeast Asian Games.

Those failures cost Diaz to lose her personal coach of 16 years, Elmer Atilano.

"Not that Hidilyn had directly been told to retire, but events following my firing as her coach pointed to that," Atilano told this writer in an exclusive interview after his pupil won the Olympic silver medal in Rio. "They (POC) really set Hidilyn up para di siya makarating sa Rio."

Having been his ward for a decade and-a-half, norturing Diaz to her proper place in the national training pool and eventually making her an Olympian, Atilano knew her too well, her assets and weaknesses. What he lacked and how to solve them.

The coach and the student then charted ways and means Diaz would tread on the road to her third Olympics with the help of a few who cared.

"First na-realize namin na she's not fit in her division. She weighed 57.9 kilograms, but competing in the 58-kg level was too heavy for her. So, kailangan magbawas siya ng timbang at mag-compete sa mas mababang dibisyon. In the 53 kg. category, to be exact," Atilano revealed.

"That was the hardest part of course, of our efforts to resurrect her career. She was eating like no one did so, napakalaking sakripisyo para kay Hidilyin," Atilano reminisced.

"But to her credit, sinunod niya ang program na inihanda ng nutritionist provided by the PSC (Philippine Sports Commission) para sa kanyang diet."

The program did wonder. Diaz lost five pounds in a matter of months. Soon her body weight was reduced to just 52.8 kilograms, which she maintained for her to be able to compete in the 53 kg. division," her coach recalled.

The following year alone, Hidilyn collected five medals in four different international competitions she took part in, including three bronze medals in the world championships held in Houston, Texas to qualify outright in the Rio Olympics.

Perseverance, mental toughness, belief in what she can do, and her faith in Somebody up there, Atilano asserted, are the new weapons Hidilyn had added in her arsenal the past two years of a rebuilding program she underwent since failing to make it to the Incheon Asiad.

"Before completely regaining her form, I told her may kulang pa. I reminded her she, too, need the Lord para hindi mawala ang lahat ng naipon niya sa dalawang taong pagsa-sakripisyo niya," Atilano said. "I made her attend the mass every Sunday which she has religiously followed."

The Philippine Air Force sergeant, likewise, in bringing home an Olympic silver medal matched the feats fashioned out earlier by boxers Anthony ?Boy? Villanueva in 1964 and Mansueto ?Onyok? Velasco in 1996 in Atlanta, besides emerging the first Olympian from Mindanao to have earned the honor reserved only to her peers from Luzon and the Visayas in the past 91 years of the country's participation in the summer festival.

Diaz's silver medal harvest came, too, as the first in weightlifting since sprinter David Nepomuceno, coached by Regino Ylanan, inscribed the Philippines' name in the Olympic map for the first time in 1924 in Paris.

That raised the Philippines' medal harvest to a total 10, counting the seven bronze-tinted software collected earlier in swimming, boxing and track and field.

Tanker Teofilo Yldefonso became the winningest Filipino Olympian with pair of third place finishes he took in 1928 in Amsterdam and in 1932 in Los Angeles. Other Filipino bronze medalists were simonpures Jose "Cely" Villanueva, Anthony's father, Leopoldo Serrantes and Roel Velasco, Onyok's" brother, long jumper Simeon Toribio and hurdler Miguel White.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eddie Alinea.

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