Hidilyn Diaz’s quest for an Olympic gold medal suffered a major blow as the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) implements a new set of bodyweight categories in major international tournaments.
In a decision confirmed by the IWF Congress, the world body increased the weight classes in the senior, junior and youth divisions from eight to 10 following years of scientific research and survey among members of the international weightlifting community.
Unfortunately for Diaz, her weight class of -53kg had been scratched, leaving her with no option but to climb up to -55kg or go down to -49kg when she represents the country in the upcoming major tournaments, including the 30th Southeast Asian Games in Manila, the World Weightlifting Championship in Thailand and the Summer Games in Japan next year.
Diaz started her career campaigning in the -58kg category.
She was just 17 when she represented the country in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 before winning the bronze medal in the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand and silver medals in the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia and 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar.
But after a forgettable performance in the London Olympics in 2012, where she was one of the two competitors who were tagged with DNF (did not finish) in the official result, her former coach, Elbert Atilano, decided to move her down to -53kg.
Atilano said their decision paid a handsome reward as she snatched the gold in the 1st Southeast Asian Weightlifting Championship in Bangkok with a total score of 213kg — a result that was good enough for a fourth-place finish in the London Olympics.
Then, she won three gold medals in the Asian Weightlifting Championships followed by three bronze medals in the World Weightlifting Championships to earn a spot in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.
In Rio de Janeiro, she lifted a total of 200kg to clinch the silver medal behind Hsu Shu-ching of Chinese Taipei, who registered a dominant 212kg mark.
But with the IWF implementing a new set of bodyweight categories, Atilano fears the 27-year-old Diaz will meet difficulties making the adjustment.
“It’s going to be very difficult, especially with Hidilyn no longer getting any younger. She will be turning 28 this February and her bone structure is already developed,” said Atilano, who is no longer part of Diaz’s team following an ugly spat with former Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco and weightlifting chief Monico Puentevella.
“Heidi had great success competing in the -53kg weight class. Climbing to -55kg will be very difficult since the world’s best lifters are there and the winning record there is 230kg, which is very far from the 200kg she lifted in Rio.”
“On the other hand, competing in the 49kg category requires a lot of hard work and sacrifices. She has to form an elite team of coaches, trainers, nutritionists and sports psychologists if she wants to retain her power while trimming down her weight.”
But Diaz assured that she’s up to the challenge.
In fact, she already barged into the top 10 in the women’s -55kg category and is working to make it to the top 8 by April to earn a slot in the Tokyo Olympics.
She is set to train in Hainan, China this February in preparation for major tournaments ahead, including the World Weightlifting Championships in Thailand and the SEA Games in Manila.
“Yes, I’m still adjusting,” said Diaz, admitting that the removal of her weight class definitely worked to her disadvantage as she has to start back from scratch.
“I know competing in the -55kg category will be very difficult, but I take it as a challenge. I want to overcome this setback and make it to the Olympics again.”