Hidilyn Diaz: ‘I could hardly believe I won the gold’

TOKYO – Hidilyn Diaz slept no more than two hours after winning the country’s first Olympic gold medal in women’s -55 kgs class of weightlifting on Monday night.

“I slept at 5:30 a.m., woke up at 7 a.m. and I still couldn’t believe that I won a gold medal. Good morning, thank you, God, ” Diaz told a virtual press conference from the Tokyo Olympics Village on Tuesday morning.

Diaz ended the Philippines nearly 100 years gold medal quest in the Olympics that began in the Paris 1924 games.

“The journey to the Olympic gold medal wasn’t easy, but it was made possible by the people behind Team Diaz, the government, the private sponsors, and the Philippine Olympic Committee [POC] for giving us athletes the opportunity to be here in the Olympics,” she said.

Diaz lifted 97 kgs in snatch en route to two new Olympic records — the127 kgs in clean and jerk and the 224 kgs in the total lift — to earn the gold.

The pride of Zamboanga City made former Olympic record holder and favorite, China’s Liao Qiuyun look helpless by winning the gold. Liao took silver with 223 kgs while Kazakhstan’s Zulfiya Chinshanlo bagged the bronze with 213 kg.

“Here’s the lady that we’ve waited for the past 97 years,” POC President Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino told the same online press conference. “

Diaz’ gold quest included her stint as Olympic first-timer in Beijing in 2008, as an injured participant in London in 2012, and as a near-gold winner in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. She capped it by bagging the gold this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Hidilyn’s gold upped the country’s haul at the Olympics to one gold, three silver, and seven bronze medals—and in these Games’ medal tally board, at No. 20 behind frontrunners US (9-5-8 gold-silver-bronze), China (9-5-7) and host Japan (8-3-5).

Diaz was emotional while waiting for her turn to step on the podium. She was already in tears when Mikee Cojuangco Jaworksi, the International Olympic Committee’s Representative to the Philippines, handed her medal and the winner’s bouquet.

Tolentino and his secretary-general at the POC, Atty. Edwin Gastanes, and Philippine Sports Commission Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez and his chief of staff, Marc Velasco, were holding back tears while filming the historic event off stage. And when the Lupang Hinirang was played and the country’s colors were raised for the very first time in Olympic history, all emotions went loose.

“I got goosebumps all over,” Velasco said, wiping away his tears.

Diaz’s gold medal is worth a total of P3.3 million in cash rewards — P10 million each from the government under the Athletes and Incentives Act, Ramon S. Ang of San Miguel Corp. and Manuel V. Pangilinan’s Smart and PLDT—and a house-and-lot in Tagaytay City courtesy of Tolentino.

On Tuesday, the ante was raised with Megaworld of tycoon Dr. Andrew Tan gifting Diaz a P14 million condominium unit at Eastwood City.

Team Diaz—Chinese coach Gao Kaiwen, strength and conditioning coach Julius Naranjo, nutritionist Jeaneth Aro and psychologist Karen Trinidad—stayed long after the venue was cleared, taking selfies and groupies on the stage—along with a handful Filipino reporters who chronicled the most significant feat in Philippine sports history.

“Nothing is impossible, even in this pandemic. We were able to do this amid the pandemic when the risk is there ready to strike anyone of us” added Diaz in the press conference where she was also joined by chef de mission Mariano ‘Nonong’ Araneta, Naranjo, Gao  and Gastanes.

It was already bright in Tokyo when Diaz finally hit the sack at 5:30 a.m. answering calls and messages and trying to get the gold medal-winning accomplishment.

Diaz woke up at 7 a.m. admitting she still had to convince herself that she won an Olympic gold medal the night before.

“I could hardly believe that I won gold,” she said.

Filipino-Japanese Kiyomi Watanabe, meanwhile, lost to Spain’s Cristina Cabana Perez, 1-0, in women’s -63-kg elimination round of judo on Tuesday.