Finally, the golden drought is over.
Hidilyn Diaz lifted the Philippines from the Olympic doldrums with a heave for the ages, delivering the first-ever gold medal through her broad shoulders that never wavered and a spirit that never waned.
It was simply a “lift of faith” and Diaz, who rose from the streets of Zamboanga City to track down the medal that has eluded the country for 97 long years.
She beat an equally determined Chinese Lian Qiuyun, the world record holder no less, with a final lift of 127kg in the clean and jerk at the Tokyo International Forum Monday night.
She earlier settled for second in the snatch, topped by Lian, with a 97kg lift, on her way to snatching the hotly-disputed gold in 55kg division of women’s weightlifting with a total 224 kgs.
The Chinese, who earlier lifted 126kg, took the silver medal with 223kg and Kazakhtan’s Zulfiya Chinshanlo claimed the bronze with 213 kgs.
Diaz’s second-to-last lift of 124kg in clean and jerk already stood as the new Olympic record before Lian bettered it with a 126kg in her last lift and Diaz rewriting it again with her 127kg.
She also made it a double feat with her 224kg total lift also going down in record books as the new Olympic mark.
Diaz, who would always scream after each lift, yelled after hoisting then putting down the barbell for the last time then cried and an explosion of emotions ensued as Team Philippines celebrated the historic feat of the 30-year-old, who battled injuries, self-doubts and uncertainties to become the first Filipino to win the Olympic gold medal in a pandemic-hit edition of the sporting world’s grandest stage.
Only three Filipino athletes had come close to bagging the gold, two falling short of a couple of punches and the other, Diaz herself, when she settled for silver in the 2016 Rio Games.
Her journey started 13 years ago in Beijing and she pursued the medal again in London in 2012, both to no avail.
But now, she would fly home with a shiny gold medal before collecting a cash incentive of P33 million; P10 million from the national government, P10 million from Manny Pangilinan of MVP Sports Foundation, P10 million from Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation and P3 million from Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero.
“The Palace congratulates Hidilyn Diaz for bringing pride and glory to the Philippines by winning the country’s first ever Olympic gold medal,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said.
“Congratulations, Hidilyn. The entire nation is proud of you.”
Earlier, another medal bet in Margielyn Didal ended her campaign in the women’s street at seventh place at the Ariake Urban Sports Park.
Bothered by an ankle sprain, Didal scored 7.52 in the finals, which is just nearly half of the tally of eventual champion Nishiya Momiji of Japan who had 15.26.
“This is for the country. I’m really proud to represent the Philippines,” said Didal, who was limping at the end of the runs after her third trick.
On top of the boxing ring, the Filipinos continue to dazzle as all of them safely advanced to the next round.
Nesthy Petecio and Carlo Paalam made their presence felt as they dismantled their respective foes to intensify their hunt for the country’s first ever Olympic gold medal.
Petecio, the reigning world champion, stunned top seed Lin Yu-Ting of Chinese Taipei in the Round of 16 of the women’s featherweight class, 3-2, while Paalam gave everything he can to clobber Brendan Irvine of Ireland in the Round of 32 of the men’s flyweight class, 4-1.
Despite being dwarfed by her 5-foot-8 foe, who held the world title in 2018, Petecio refused to get intimidated as she pounded her with bombs after bombs to claim the victory and book a ticket to the quarterfinals of the boxing competition that is now being organized by the International Olympic Committee.
A win over Yeni Marcela Arias Castaneda of Columbia in the quarterfinals will assure Petecio of at least a bronze medal — the first Olympic medal by the vaunted boxing squad under the leadership of Ricky Vargas.
“I changed my style so she couldn’t study me,” said Petecio, who displayed her deadly form in the early stretch of the third round before dancing her way to victory.
“When she adjusted to my attacks from the right, I shifted to the left.”
“Then, I took care of myself and avoided getting hit with solid punches.”
Petecio’s rousing win came less than an hour after Paalam clobbered the tall, lanky Irvine in their encounter.
The 4-1 split decision win didn’t come as a surprise as the Irishman unleashed his arsenal after getting battered in the first round that gave Paalam wide lead early on.
“I am very thankful for winning in the first match of my first Olympic stint,” said Paalam, a proud son of Cagayan de Oro City.
“The fight was very close that’s why I gave everything I’ve got down the stretch. Even if I was already tired, I still kept on punching. I want to win for my family.”
His Australian coach, Don Abnett, said he was surprised to see Paalam grinding despite his wide lead early on.
“He thought he was trailing so he threw caution to the wind and traded punches,” Abnett said.
Paalam will clash with 2017 African Championships winner Mohamed Filsi of Algeria in the Round of 16 on Saturday, following teammate Irish Magno to the next round of the preliminaries with a second win assuring them of berths in the quarterfinals.
On Sunday, Magno had steered clear of complications by outgunning Christine Ongare of Kenya through three rounds 5-0 in the women’s flyweight class.
They will join middleweight Eumir Marcial, who is seeded in the Round of 16 and will start his campaign on Thursday.
Also on Wednesday is debuting judoka Kiyomi Watanabe in the 63kg women’s middleweight division against Cristina Cabana Perez of Spain at Nippon Budokan as well as swimmer Luke Gebbie, where he will take lane 8 in heat No. 5 in the men’s 100-meter freestyle at the Tokyo Aquatics Center.
Swimming three lanes away from Gebbie will be Singapore phenomenon Joseph Schooling, gold medal winner in the 100m butterfly at the Rio Games in 2016.
With Dante Navarro