HANOI, May 22 (The Straits Times/ANN): After the Tokyo 2020 summit came the inevitable disappointment. Hidilyn Diaz returned to the Philippines as her country’s first Olympic champion and suddenly felt aimless.
Four years of personal sacrifice was vindicated by this gold medal in weightlifting, but it also brought deep soul-searching and doubt.
“It was really hard for me to stay motivated because what’s next?” she told the Straits Times on Friday, May 20, shortly after retaining her women’s SEA Games 55kg title.
“But I chose to carry on (despite) what others are saying about me having to retire and give others a chance.
“I can still do it, my team still believes in me and I know I can still win the gold medal in Paris 2024. As an athlete I want a challenge, I want to improve my training, I want that , so that’s my motivation. Paris 2024 is my goal and I won’t stop.”
The 31-year-old caught Covid-19 earlier this year and initially feared she would struggle to regain her physical peak. But her renewed dynamism was evident at the Hanoi Sports Training and Competition Center as she withstood fierce competition from a formidable opponent in Sanikun Tanasan.
The Thai, herself an Olympic champion after her victory in the 48 kg category at Rio 2016, had moved up a weight category in Vietnam. She even took the lead early on, lifting a SEA Games snatch record of 93kg, 1kg more than Diaz’s effort.
But the Filipina regained the lead in the clean and jerk segment, lifting 114,000 for a total of 206kg while Sanikun could only manage 110kg and won silver with her total of 203kg. Indonesian Natasha Beteyob (188 kg) finished third.
Diaz’s victory was popular. The majority of the crowd inside the venue were her compatriots, waving their national flag and cheering for Diaz whenever she took the stage.
She was then swarmed by the Filipino media and her fans and with a broad smile, happily responded to their many requests.
It’s something she’s gotten used to since Tokyo 2020, Diaz said.
Life has gotten much busier as she juggles her sporting commitments, business and sponsorship opportunities, as well as completing her thesis from her business management program.
His high national status also means increased responsibility and Diaz recognized that his actions and words carried more weight now.
Diaz, who was discouraged from pursuing a career in weightlifting due to her gender, is determined to use her influence to empower others and grow the sport in the Philippines.
She said: “It’s hard. There are a lot of expectations, but as long as I know who I am, what my purpose in life is and why I’m doing this, I choose these things because it’s ( which I) value. One thing (that I want to achieve) is to spread more weightlifting in the Philippines.”
Paris 2024 is likely to be her Olympic swan song, although moving away will be difficult, she added.
“It’s really hard for me to quit because weightlifting is my life. I’ve been weightlifting for 20 years, it’s so hard to quit just because I won a gold medal . I’m already there but I just want to take it easy, do my best, go to Paris 2024 and we’ll see.” – The Straits Times/ANN