Taking a deep breath on the sidelines as she awaits her turn, Olympic weightlifter, active member of the Philippine Air Force and Generation T honouree Hidilyn Diaz clutches tightly at her Miraculous Medal of the Blessed Mother. It was a reminder of all the people praying for her and of knowing that God is always with her especially now. As she stepped onto the crimson stage, the voice of her strength and conditioning coach, Julius Naranjo, rang through her mind: “One motion, chest out, one motion.”
One motion, one extra kilogramme and immeasurable determination are what it took for Diaz to stand victorious. By lifting 97 kilogrammes in snatch and 127 kilogrammes in the clean-and-jerk, setting an Olympic record in the process, she beat China’s Liao Quiyun with a total of 224 kilogrammes, bringing home the Philippines’ first-ever gold medal. “I was not thinking of the Olympic record, I was not thinking of a medal; I was just focusing on the movement—one motion, chest out,” shares the 30-year-old champion. “I was never able to lift 127 kilogrammes in the clean-and-jerk before. I have tried but never could.” That day she did. With an entire nation cheering her on, in one seamless movement, Diaz made history at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Her path to this momentous achievement was not without its challenges. While representing the country in the 2012 London Olympics, she received a devastating “Did Not Finish” after three unsuccessful attempts in her clean-and-jerk. In a past interview with Tatler Philippines, Diaz expressed that she felt like “there was no way I could win in the Olympics or even go back to weightlifting. I felt like I was a loser, a failure, that I was empty and with no purpose or direction in my life”.
This could not have been farther from the truth. Picking herself up with grace, along with much sacrifice and perseverance, Diaz took home silver in Rio 2016 and continued to keep her eye on the prize. After years of training for Tokyo 2020, she was finally feeling prepared—then the pandemic hit. “Everyday, we live in anxiety,” she says. “When I found out they postponed the Olympics, the athlete in me was like—what now? I’ve already given my everything.” Despite the constant fear of falling ill and logistical difficulties, Diaz never wavered. Separated from her loved ones, stuck in Malaysia due to international travel restrictions with no open gyms available, she continued to train using bamboo sticks, water bottles and weighted bags. “I’m so grateful the Olympics pushed through. I’m so grateful we made it and we were able to bring home that gold medal for the Philippines.”