Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz: From homemade barbell to Rio silver
Roel Pareño (The Philippine Star) - August 9, 2016 - 12:00am

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – For Hidilyn Diaz, the journey to an Olympic medal started in a humble village in this city, where her cousins inspired the young girl to lift barbells fashioned out of pipes with concrete weights shaped in tin cans.

Twice Diaz tried to win an Olympic medal for the country. Yesterday, in her third try, the 25-year-old airwoman second class of the Philippine Air Force from Barangay Mampang finally succeeded, winning a silver in the 53-kilogram category in weightlifting.

It was the country’s first silver medal since boxer Onyok Velasco’s Olympic win in the Atlanta Games in 1996.

In Rio de Janeiro, Diaz said she and her coach had hoped only for a bronze, as Chinese-Taipei’s Hsu Shu-Ching and China’s Li Yajun were seen to be the contenders for the gold. Li failed to lift 123kg in the clean and jerk, opening the podium for other competitors. Hsu won the gold and Jin Hee Yoon of South Korea bagged the bronze.

“Ginawa ko yung best para sa country (I did my best for the country),” Diaz said.

Her family endured the poor television signal to watch her compete at the 2016 Games in Brazil. At around 3 a.m. yesterday, the entire household erupted in cheers.

They were joined by jubilant neighbors who have turned Mampang into a village of weightlifting aficionados, with children undergoing training in a makeshift gym set up by Diaz.

Her silver medal ends the country’s 20-year Olympic drought, and makes her the first Filipino woman to bag an Olympic medal.

Birthday gift

The athlete’s parents Eduardo and Emelita were reciting a novena at their home for the safety of their daughter “Hidi” when a relative burst in to announce the good news. 

It was especially welcome news for Emelita who celebrated her 53rd birthday last Sunday.

“We were really praying that the Lord would give her this chance because it’s her third try and as a gift to me,” Emelita said.

The fifth of six children, Diaz lives in a compound near the roadside with her parents and siblings. A small party is being prepared by the family for her return this Sunday night.

 “A cousin of Hidi burst in to announce she had won the silver, to our jubilation,” Eduardo said. “Everyone here was so happy. It’s really a big honor not just for our home village but for the country.”

Village officials are also laying out a heroine’s welcome for their athletic star. Barangay Mampang chairman Leonard Aliangan said the village council would be meeting to prepare the welcome.

“We have to honor our very own Mampanguena. We have to thank her for giving honor to Zamboanga City, our village of Mampang and the country,” Aliangan said.

City officials also expressed pride, with Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar saying there would be a motorcade for Diaz.

“It is with great joy and pride that we share the news of our very own Hidilyn Diaz’s win at the Rio Olympics,” Salazar announced at a press briefing in this city. “This is a great victory for the city and the country.”

Dr. Cecile Atilano, the city’s sports officer who is a former weightlifter, said at age 25, Diaz still has two more chances to compete in the Olympics.

Diaz’s cousin Rachel Garcia recalled the budding athlete starting out young, joining elder relatives at the school gym for weightlifting training. 

Allen Jayfrus Diaz, a cousin of Hidilyn, initially coached her on the basics of weightlifting.

Later, Diaz put up her own makeshift gym in front of their house. Her parents said she used the makeshift barbells with weights made of concrete.

Atilano said most weightlifters in the country start out using similar makeshift weights, pointing out that the sport gets little official attention.

Student surpasses teachers

In time, Diaz began doing better then her cousins who taught her the basics of the sport. Allen Jayfrus said they were happy to see their cousin winning local and international competitions.

As Diaz began showing promise, someone donated a real barbell to her. The barbell soon broke down from use and has since gathered rust. But Diaz began receiving more donations of barbells and weights as she won in competitions.

Allen Jayfrus is currently running the makeshift gym, which he said has produced several young weightlifters who have competed in Batang Pinoy.

He is currently training for free about 30 children with the support of Hidilyn. Friends have also donated shoes and uniforms.

Eduardo said his daughter has kept video files of her participation in competitions, which are shown to the children at the gym.

Through the video footage, Eduardo said, Hidilyn is hoping that she can inspire younger generations to give weightlifting a shot, and possibly bring honors to the country in future Olympic Games.


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