Tokyo—It was like a person about to face his own death. All the memories come rushing in before one’s very eyes.
But this was not death
This was immortality.
From the time she fetched water for her family carrying 5-gallon containers, to missing countless Christmases, birthdays and family reunions, to training in Malaysia for nearly two years, right at this moment, alone at the Tokyo International Forum stage at the center of the universe—all the memories came rushing in before Hidilyn Diaz’s eyes.
One final lift to end a 97-year hunt for Olympic gold. One final kilogram to decide the Philippines’ best ever showing in these games, or another sad footnote in history.
A battle for the ages
China’s Liao Qiuyun, the world record holder, who has beaten Hidilyn everytime they met in the past and the overwhelming favorite to win it all here, was good as advertised. Save for a primal scream before her turns, Liao nonchalantly does her lifts devoid of any emotion, making it all seem like a day in the office to a bored employee.
In contrast, Hidilyn would smile during and after her lifts, and later burst into a genuine shout of joy when she makes a successful hoist while pumping her fists into the air.
The clean and jerk was stuff of legends between Liao and Hidilyn, transforming the event into a one-on-one showdown of strength and strategy. At several instances, it was a psy war between the two superwomen.
Every lift by Diaz felt like a Ginebra game-winner. Every lift by the Chinese felt like a punch in the gut. On that big of a stage, every single lift meant like oxygen to a drowning man, an emotional seesaw that will never level out. When the one-upmanship (or upwomanship, if you will) ended, you’ll either be at the highest of highs or lowest of lows.
We all know now how it ended.
After posting a 97-kg lift in the snatch, Diaz went on to set Olympic records in the clean and jerk (127 kgs) and total lift (224 kgs) for the gold, sending Liao, who fell a kilogram short, to the silver and Kazakhstan’s Zulfiya Chinshanlo to the bronze medal.
The start of an Olympic dream
Every Olympic dream had to start somewhere. In Hidilyn’s case, it began in her hometown in Barangay Mampang, Zamboanga City, where she was introduced to the sport when she watched her cousins lift big and heavy pieces of wood. Having carried buckets of water for her family most of the time, Hidilyn’s interest was piqued. She joined Batang Pinoy, became a national athlete and went under the wings of her first coach, Tony Agustin, who was a medalist himself in the Southeast Asian Games, but never in the big ones.
Like a frustrated father wanting his children to achieve what he wanted in life but never could or did, Agustin instilled in Hidilyn the foundation that whatever she puts in her mind into, she can do.
“Gusto ko, balang araw, nandiyan ang mukha mo sa EDSA, sa isa sa mga billboards,” Tony would say to Hidilyn, everytime they headed to the Philsports Arena to train.
To which Hidilyn would reply: “Sobra ka naman coach. Imposible naman ‘yan.”
Two decades later, Hidilyn found out nothing is.
And they all led to this, right at this moment, alone at the Tokyo International Forum stage at the center of the universe when Hidilyn Diaz lifted two metal plates into the sky, and wrote her name among the stars.
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