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30-year-old sergeant battles odds to win first ever Olympic gold for Philippines

Hidilyn Diaz, the first athlete from the Philippines to win a gold medal at the Olympics (Image courtesy: Instagram/hidilyndiaz)

Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz's historic gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games has sent the Filipino community all over the world into a frenzy. The 30-year-old, a sergeant in the Philippine Air Force, conquered the women's 55 kilogram weightlifting competition in Tokyo, setting an Olympic record with a total weight of 224 kilograms.

The mammoth effort gave the Philippines its first-ever gold since it joined the Olympics in 1924 and Diaz, who had also clinched a silver at the last edition of the Games in Rio, her second Olympic medal.    

Until Monday evening, Diaz's silver at Rio 2016, the silver medals won by boxers Anthony Villanueva (Tokyo 1964) and Mansueto Velasco (Atlanta 1996) along with seven bronze, remained the biggest moments in the country's 97-year-old Olympic history.

It has all changed since judges at the Tokyo International Forum, the venue for Olympic weightlifting competitions, cleared Diaz's last attempt as a good lift.

Much before she arrives home on Wednesday and goes straight into a seven-day hotel quarantine, Diaz is being hailed as the greatest Olympian Philippines has ever produced.

On Tuesday, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) labeled her as an 'ASEAN pride' while Philippine Airlines gave 'Miss Diaz' 80,000 free miles per year for life.

Another carrier, AirAsia, also announced 'lifetime free flights' to the Olympic gold medalist "in recognition of her hard work, passion, and sportsmanship" best exemplified during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The airline had also awarded Diaz with a five-year unlimited flights within its route network after she had won the silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Megaworld, one of the biggest real-estate companies in the Philippines, also announced on Tuesday that it will be giving a residential condominium unit to the 'most decorated' Filipino Olympian.

People also recalled how the weightlifter had devised new methods of training, including lifting big mineral water bottles with a bamboo pole, after staying indoors in Malaysia for months due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Delfin Lorenzana, Secretary of the Philippine Department of National Defense, said that the country's defence team is proud of Sergeant Diaz and her success is a testament to the unwavering spirit of the Filipino to rise above all odds.

However, it is the statement from presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, which would have brought a big smile on Diaz's face.  

"The Palace congratulates Hidilyn Diaz for bringing pride and glory to the Philippines for winning the country's first-ever Olympic Gold medal (weightlifting women's 55kg). Congratulations, Hidilyn. The entire Filipino nation is proud of you. Laban, Pilipinas!" posted Roque on his Twitter page.

Back in 2019, Malacanang – the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the Philippines – was accused of including Diaz's name in the 'ouster plot matrix', an alleged conspiracy to unseat President Rodrigo Duterte.

Preparing for the 2020 Olympics, Diaz had then laughed off at the allegations.

"So that's it! I have many more goals in life and the Philippines to participate in such things. I was just shocked I was linked to that," she had tweeted in May 2019.

On Tuesday, after the statement from the presidential spokesperson, the Olympic champion hoped that other Filipino athletes will not experience her ordeal.

"Whatever happens, sana hindi mangyari 'yun sa ibang atleta at sana lahat tayo matuto, (Whatever happens, I hope this will not happen to other athletes and all of us can learn from this)," Diaz told CNN Philippines' The Final Word on Tuesday.

For the moment though, the controversies can take a backseat and Diaz, who hasn't met her family since last almost 18 months, be allowed to relax and bask in glory.

Also Read: One punch away from an Olympic medal, Lovlina raises a billion hopes