Monico not giving up on Diaz

- Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

LONDON – Philippine Olympic Committee chairman and Philippine Weightlifting Association president Monico Puentevella isn’t closing the book on Hidilyn Diaz who fared miserably in failing to hoist 118 kilograms thrice in the clean-and-jerk of the 58 kilogram women’s competition at the ExCel South Arena 3 here last Monday.

Diaz, 21, was the country’s proud flagbearer at the opening ceremony last Friday. But she was far from proud after faltering in the clean-and-jerk to end up tied for last place with Colombia’s Marcela Rivas Lina who couldn’t lift 120 thrice. Diaz wept unabashedly from the podium up to the Athletes Village, her eyes swelling with tears as she sobbed over her dismal performance.

Puentevella said Diaz had never faltered in any competition in the Philippines or abroad so her failure was a shocker. Her goal was to place in the top five of Group B, hoping to advance to the finals. But Diaz’ efforts went for naught. In the snatch, she lifted 97 kilograms and for a while, ran second to Ecuador’s Maria Alexandra Escobar Guerrero whom she recently beat in Paris. Then disaster struck in the clean-and-jerk as the barbell struck Diaz’ right knee on her hoist and she fell flat on her back. Ordinarily, that would’ve merited a foul. But Diaz got a break when officials allowed her to try twice more to lift 118 kilograms. 

Badly shaken by the tragic accident, Diaz just couldn’t muster enough strength to pick up 118, much lower than her personal best of 123. She courageously attempted to hoist 118 as the crowd cheered. But her legs wouldn’t hold up the weight. 

“The plan was for Hidilyn to start with 118 then go up to 125 the finally, 127,” said Puentevella. “Her goal was to earn a medal. And the strategy was to place in the top five of Group B then go for it in the finals. I was surprised by what happened. This never happened to Hidilyn before. She’s not a newcomer, having competed in the Beijing Olympics. But I think the pressure was too much for her. Maybe, being the flagbearer was added pressure. She knew our people were counting on her for a medal.”

Puentevella said he plans to send Diaz to China on a four-year scholarship program. “Unless Hidilyn stays and trains in China, there is no hope,” he continued. “We can arrange for her to go to an international school and train with Chinese coaches. We’ve got three or four prospects who are below 18 and we’ll send them to China, too. We should learn from the best. Hidilyn’s coach Tony (Agustin) can learn a lot from the training. We want Hidilyn to improve so that she can redeem herself in the next Olympics. She’s still young. She’ll only be 25 for Rio de Janeiro.”

Puentevella said Thailand has poured in millions to develop champion weightlifters and the investment has paid off. So far, Thailand has bagged three gold, a silver and three bronze medals in Olympic weightlifting since 2000. Pimsiri Sinkaew took the silver in Diaz’ division here.

“We can’t put in as much money as Thailand does for weightlifting and football but if we send Hidilyn and our other top young prospects to an intensive four-year training course in China, for sure we’ll see a big improvement for the 2016 Olympics,” said Puentevella. “Let’s learn from this experience in London. Hidilyn was a disappointment. But who could’ve imagined the barbell striking her knee? That was clearly a distraction. She never recovered from it. At the same time, we don’t want her distracted anymore – forget the flag-bearing. We want her totally focused in the next competition. For sure, Hidilyn will come back stronger and mentally tougher. We’re not losing hope in Hidilyn. We’ll continue to support her until she realizes her dream.” 

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