MANILA, JULY 27- Hidilyn Diaz, the Philippines weightlifter, stayed awake all night because she could not believe that she won her motherland’s first-ever Olympic gold medal.
The 30-year-old, who won silver at Rio 2016, triumphed in the women’s weightlifting 55kg after smashing her personal best to see off world record holder Liao Qiuyun of China at the Tokyo International Forum on Monday evening, finally making her dream come true.
Hardly able to contain her excitement, Diaz, a four-time Olympian, attributed her gold medal performance to her team and expressed gratitude, particularly to her Chinese coach, Gao Kaiwen. She noted that Gao and her team members’ joint efforts catapulted her to victory.
It’s been nearly a century since the Philippines won its first gold since its Olympic debut in Paris 1924. “I’m happy for the Philippines. It’s the people behind me who made it possible. It took a lot of hard work and collaboration with the team because I couldn’t do it alone,” Diaz was quoted as saying in the features article published by Xinhua News Agency.
Gao, 64, who has coached multiple Chinese Olympic medalists, became Diaz’s mentor in 2018 after retiring as a Chinese Bayi weightlifting team coach. His rich teaching experience turned out to be invaluable to Diaz, making a difference in her lifts and career.
Under the guidance of Gao, Diaz championed the women’s weightlifting 53kg at the 2018 Asian Games and won bronze at the 2019 World Weightlifting Championships, raising the country’s hopes that she could bring home the first Olympic gold in Tokyo.
“Coach Gao is really good, and he is strict with me. He is good for athletes because not every coach can understand how an athlete thinks and moves. He is really good at teaching me the techniques. He knows the basics of weightlifting and my personality quite well. It is different when you learn new things with him,” said Diaz.
However success never comes easily as difficulties and challenges abounded over the past two years. In early 2020, Gao and Diaz went to Malaysia to train and to stay away from distractions. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures forced them to remain in the country for training before going to Tokyo for the Olympics.
“We moved from Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, to several other places and finally settled down in Malacca, in which we got a fixed training venue and built a gym by ourselves in the backyard.
“Actually, I was in charge of every meal of Diaz in Malaysia, so I’m both her coach and chef,” recalled Gao.
In Gao’s eyes, Diaz, a Philippine Air Force servicewoman, remained optimistic under pressure and displayed great tenacity throughout the training and contest.
“It is not an easy job for a girl coming from a poor family of Zamboanga City, the Philippines, to keep up intense training at the age of 30,” said Gao.
Gao has mixed feelings about Diaz’s gold-medal-winning ways, as he is happy for the Philippine first-ever Olympic gold medalist, but “it was a great pity to watch the athlete from my country take a silver,” he said.
However, just as the new Olympic motto reads: “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together,” Diaz and Gao become stronger when standing together.
After winning the gold medal, Diaz wants to inspire the youth. She offered words of encouragement to the younger generations in the Philippines.
“Please dream high. That’s how I started. I dreamed high, and finally, I was able to do it.”
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