By Ellen Faye Ann Yabut and Althea Lorraine Servano

PHOTO: Tokyo 2020

Ending the country's 97-year thirst for an Olympic victory, Pinay weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz bagged the Philippines' first-ever gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The 30-year-old Zamboangueña remarkably ignited the change in the local sports scene, and was recognized as the G.O.A.T or the “Greatest Of All Time” in the history of Philippine weightlifting. Nevertheless, deep within the weightlifting superstar lies a daughter, a student, a team member, a sergeant, a fighter, you name it! Haidie has got it in the bag for you! 

Want to know more about the Philippines' weightlifting fairy? Here are 5 interesting facts about our Olympic Golden Girl:

Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz is a Four-Time Olympian

Not once, not twice, or thrice, but four times!

At 17 years old, she made her Olympic debut at the 2008 Beijing Games. The weightlifting prodigy  was the youngest competitor in the women's 58-kg division and received a wild card entrance. Unfortunately, Diaz anguished over her “did not finish” result after qualifying in the 2012 London Olympics. She launched her Olympic comeback in 2016, winning a silver medal in the women's 53-kg weight category, breaking the Philippines' 20-year medal wait. Finally, on July 26, 2021, Diaz won the country's first Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, branding her as the first Filipino to ever win an Olympic gold medal in a non-exhibition sport. Moreover, the weightlifting champ set world records for the 55 kg division in the clean and jerk at 127 kg and in the total at 224 kg.

Three Careers in One

Not only is Haidie an astounding weightlifter, but she’s also a dedicated student-athlete and airwoman.

Hidilyn pursued a bachelor's degree in computer science at the Universidad de Zamboanga. Diaz, however, dropped out of university in her third year after claiming that the degree was unsuitable for her and took her attention away from training. Later on, she decided to continue her education with a degree related to sports in Manila. In January 2017, Diaz received a scholarship to study business management at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. 

In an interview, she admitted that she needed to temporarily give up her diploma and had to take a leave of absence, following her coaches’ advice to focus on training and preparation for the Olympics. She re-enrolled in short online courses last year to keep her occupied during the pandemic lockdown and the postponement of the Summer Olympics to July 2021.

Furthermore, Diaz was enlisted in the Philippine Air Force (PAF) in 2013 under the military arm's Direct Enlistment Program. She was also granted an Air Force Specialty Code for weightlifting recreation. To add to the long list of her achievements, Diaz was also a commendable recipient of a Military Merit Medal and a Presidential Citation Unit Badge. She was consecutively promoted rank after rank. Recently, following Diaz's victory at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Philippine Air Force's commanding general, Lt. Gen. Allen Paredes, authorized Diaz's promotion from Sergeant to Staff Sergeant on July 27, 2021.

Diaz Was Once Involved in the oust-Duterte Matrix, All While Preparing for the Olympics

Other than the weights she carried in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Haidie needed to carry a different weight when she was involved in the oust-Duterte matrix in 2019.

The matrix was presented by then Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on a white cartolina which included personalities and groups who were said to be involved in the plan to oust Pres. Duterte. Initially, her involvement was something she found funny, but that eventually turned into fear — for the security of her and her family.

Diaz denied this accusation, stating that at that time, she was busy preparing for the olympics and wished that the government did not drag the name of someone who was devoting all their time to bring pride to their homeland.

"Sobrang focused ako sa goal ko for Tokyo 2020 and sana po wag po kayong ganon na idadawit niyo ang pangalan ng isang tao na sobrang busy at sobrang sinasakripisyo ang lahat para sa Pilipinas.” she stressed.

She is yet to receive an apology from the palace, however, Haidie says that she has forgiven them.

Behind the Weightlifting Champion is a Dedicated Team

Before the celebration of the feats and triumphs, Haidie was taught by a group of committed instructors that motivated her to win the gold. Behind Hidilyn Diaz’s fight to victory was her Significant Four: the Team HD.

Team HD includes Coach Jeaneth Aro, her nutritionist; sports psychologist Dr. Karen Trinidad; weightlifting coach Kaiwen Gao; and strength and conditioning coach Julius Irvin Naranjo, who is also a weightlifter, and as the general public may already be aware of, is Hidilyn's boyfriend.

Naranjo and Gao have been training Hidilyn in Malaysia for more than a year now. Training away from her home country, Haidie needed to overcome a lot of challenges, some of which are homesickness, overthinking, mental breakdown, and social media trolls to cope with. Additionally, because of Covid restrictions, the experience of loneliness and isolation in the Olympic village in Japan can be quite overwhelming. Thanks to the unparalleled guidance of her sports psychologist Dr. Karen Trinidad, who is also the Philippine team psychologist, Haidie was able to rise above these difficulties and received mental preparation, training, and wellness.

Diaz thanks and acknowledges her team as she told the site Tie Breaker Times in early July, “What drives me is Team HD because really I won’t survive this pandemic without them. It’s been like a rollercoaster ride.” 

Post-Olympic Goal?

So what’s up next for our Hidilyn Diaz?

In her recent interviews, the weightlifting queen revealed that she would like to continue her journey in representing the flag at the World Championships and Southeast Asian Games. She would also like to finish her education, especially that her graduation is nearing with only two terms left to accomplish.

When asked on how she will spend her 33 million pesos, she answered with no specific plans in mind, but will definitely give tithes, save for her family’s future, and give back to the weightlifting community, as well as to support aspiring Pinoy athletes in dreaming high and becoming the next generation of champions!

The immense pride that Hidilyn has brought to our country has proved to be a ray of hope in a time ever so clouded. Her grit, passion, determination, and faith serve as inspirations to many Filipinos ​​— athlete or not. She has also shown how capable women are, because if her Olympic win has taught us anything, it's to fight like a girl.

Sources: Tonight with Boy Abunda, ANC, Frontline Pilipinas, DepEd Philippines, Rappler, Cosmo PH, Wikipedia texts, ABS-CBN News, CNN Philippines, ANCX