Even before the barbell dropped on the floor, tears started to stream down Hidilyn Diaz’s face, her hands clasped together telling everyone that she had done the improbable — win the country’s first gold medal in the Olympics.
Just five years after ending a 20-year medal drought by winning the silver medal in Rio de Janeiro, the 30-year-old weightlifter did it again, this time taking the biggest prize, the one commodity that eluded the Philippines for 97 years.
That it came on the same day President Rodrigo Duterte made his last State of the Nation Address was no small coincidence.
It was a Monday that would go down in history as the day a woman gave the Philippines one of its greatest sports triumphs in Tokyo, Japan.
Over 3,000 kilometers away, Filipinos celebrated at home. Tears were shed. Newspapers stopped the presses. Television broadcasts were interrupted. The social media was abuzz.
How Diaz got there, not too many are aware of. It was a product of sweat and tears.
The hands that clutched the gold medal were the same hands that carried pails of water when Diaz was growing up in a poor neighborhood in Zamboanga City.
The small cuts and calluses visible in Diaz’s hands are testimonies to the hard work she put in to become an elite athlete and the sacrifices she had to endure to win the gold medal.
She had spent more than a year in Malaysia where she trained in exile because of Covid-19 restrictions. She hadn’t seen her family since 2019. She had to make do with a makeshift training area after gym facilities were closed during the pandemic.
Yet, her will and determination were unbent.
Surrounded by a team of dedicated professionals in their respective fields, Diaz received the training that she needed to pull off the miracle.
Hers was a story of perseverance, one trait Filipinos are known for.
She overcame poverty and limited opportunities that her sport can offer.
After all, weightlifting is still waging a losing battle against basketball in terms of popularity.
But Diaz has shown that it is in weightlifting that Filipinos can become world beaters.
It took her a long time — but it was worth the wait.