TOKYO—“Good morning, thank you God.”
Five words from Tokyo Olympics weightlifting gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz as she graced a virtual press conference the morning after her historic feat from the Olympic Village.
Diaz ended the Philippine gold medal chase that began in the 1924 Paris Olympics on Monday night, breaking two games records and sending an entire nation to tears in the process.
“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,” the 30-year-old Diaz said.
Diaz powered herself to the country’s first gold medal in women’s -55 kgs class, lifting 97 kgs in the snatch en route to two new Olympic records—127 kgs in clean and jerk and 224 kgs in total lift.
The pride of Zamboanga City beat former Olympic record holder and favorite, China’s Liao Qiuyun, to win the gold. Liao took silver with 223 kgs and Kazakhstan’s Zulfiya Chinshanlo bagged 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. “
Olympic debutante in Beijing 2008, an unlucky participant when she ended up with an injury in London 2012 and was almost there in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro where she clinched a silver medal.
With that gold medal, the country’s performance since it started joining the quadrennial “greatest show on earth” now stands at one gold, three silver and seven bronze medals.
Diaz was emotional while waiting for her turn to step on the highest spot on the podium on Monday night—and so was the whole country was—and was already in tears when Mikee Cojuangco Jaworski, the International Olympic Committee’s Representative to the Philippines, handed her the golden mint and the winner’s boquet.
Off stage, 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.
And then the singing of Lupang Hinirang, the Philippine national anthem, and corresponding raising of the country’s colors for the very first time in Olympic history.
“I got goose bumps all over,” Marc Velasco said, wiping away tears.
Diaz’s gold medal is worth a total of P3.3 million in cash—P10 million each from 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,” added Diaz in the press conference where she was also joined by chef de mission Mariano “Nonong” Araneta, Gao, Naranjo and Gastanes.
“We were able to do this amid the pandemic, when the risk is there ready to strike anyone of us” she said.
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.