By Alfred Gabot, Eddie G. Alinea and Beting Laygo Dolor
MANILA/TOKYO – After 97 years, the Philippines finally got its first Olympic gold medal after weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz of Zamboanga City bested the competitors in the Tokyo Olympics and set new Olympic records in the process.
Diaz, 30, who stands only four feet and 11 inches, proudly proclaimed after being awarded the medal that with perseverance and hard work, the Filipino can win the elusive gold medal in the Olympics.
More than P50 million in cash and other incentives, including a house and lot in Tagaytay City, a P14-million condo unit in Eastwood, Quezon City from Megaworld’s Andrew Tan, P4 million house and lot from Century Properties await Diaz when everything is settled, apart from presidential and congressional awards.
Diaz later said she is thankful for massive cash rewards and incentives but stressed that her one true dream was winning the gold medal for the country.
“Syempre, nagpapasalamat po ako. Syempre, lahat naman tayo kailangan ng pinansyal na tulong. Syempre, gusto ko rin pasalamat, pero ginawa ko kasi ito … nanalo ng gold, kasi isa ‘to sa mga dream na binigay ni God sa akin, sa puso ko,” she said in a television interview.
During her GMA Network interview, Diaz said a big thank you to her team, her family, and everyone who supported her throughout her journey.
“Gusto ko lang pong sabihin sa lahat ng Pilipino na nagdasal at sumuporta sa aming mga Filipino athletes, maraming maraming salamat po…” she said.
“Thank you so much po na nagkaisa po tayo habang nanunuod ng laban… ng bawat laban ng Filipino athlete, malaking bagay po sa amin na we work as one, we support as one and, at the end of the day, we are Filipino and we represent Filipino. Thank you so much po sa suportang binigay niyo,” she added.
President Rodrigo Duterte added P3 million reward for Diaz after congratulating her via video conference after she arrived from Tokyo via Philippine Air Lines which also pledged lifetime mileage for her, together with Air Asia.
During Diaz’s video courtesy call upon arrival in Manila, Duterte said he will shell out ₱3 million to reward the Olympic champion on top of the ₱10 million she will get from the national government as stipulated in the National Athletes and Coaches Benefits and Incentives Act.
Sen. Christopher Lawrence Go and some Cabinet members congratulated Diaz one by one after her meeting with the President.
Duterte added Diaz will also be a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Merit, which will be awarded to her in an “appropriate ceremony.”
Duterte advised Diaz to savor her victory and to “forget” all the disappointments and the bad things that may have happened in the past.
Diaz was once included in a list of people allegedly out to discredit and oust the President which she vehemently denied.
Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo who explained the list is being asked by citizens and Diaz’ supporters to apologize to her, having been traumatized by the news and nearly caused her to quit weightlifting competitions.
“I hope that the years of toil, the years of disappointments, and the years na hindi maganda nangyari (when bad things happened) in the past, just forget them. You already have the gold,” Duterte said.
“And it would be good for you to just let bygones be bygones and dwell solely on your victory together with your family, and of course, with the nation,” the President added.
The President also promised Diaz a house and lot in Zamboanga City — part of her perks as a member of the Philippine Air Force (PAF). Earlier, Diaz was promoted to the next rank by the Armed Forces.
Of the over P50 million cash and other rewards, P10 million each will come from business tycoons Manny Pangilinan’s group of PLDT and Smart and Meralco and Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation, P10 million from the national government, P5 million and free fuel for life from businessman Danny Uy of Phoenix Petroleum and Dito, P3 million from Deputy Speaker and Rep. Mikee Romero, P3.5 million from the city government of Zamboanga, among others.
Each of the country’s governors will also contribute P10,000 each for the gold medalist.
Meanwhile, Angeles City Mayor Carmelo Lazatin said the city will give P200,000 to Diaz, adding that the Angeles City-based Diaz, who has a home at the Decca Clark Resort and Residences in Barangay Sapangbato here, trained in one of the Crossfit gyms in the city.
GoNegosyo founder Joey Concepcion predicted that Diaz will definitely live a “comfortable” life with cumulative incentives that could reach up to ₱100 million from various brands, apart from “a long list of commercial endorsements.”
“Believe me, I can see it, that will hit over ₱100 million. She’s gonna be very wealthy, no doubt about that. Being the first gold medalist in the Philippines, every major brand will want to get her,” Concepcion said.
Diaz became the first Filipino athlete to win it all in an Olympic event with her victory in the the women’s 55-kg. weightlifting competition at the Tokyo International Forum in Japan on Monday night.
Diaz lifted 97 kgs in snatch en route to two new Olympic records — 127 kgs in clean and jerk and 224 kgs in the total lift — to win the gold medal.
Diaz, a silver medalist in the 2016 Rio Olympics, prevailed in a neck and neck showdown with China’s Liao Qiuyun in the clean-and-jerk lift as their battle for the gold went down the wire.
Finishing tied with Diaz in the snatch with a 97-kg. maximum lift, Liao lifted 126 kg. in her final lift, forcing Diaz to go for 127 to steal the top spot from Liao.
Diaz, however, smoothly cleared the 127-kg. lift to win it all, also setting an Olympic record in the process.
Her 224-kg. total is also an Olympic record.
Diaz was emotional while waiting for her turn to step on the podium. She was already in tears when Mikee Cojuangco Jaworksi, the International Olympic Committee’s Representative to the Philippines, handed her medal and another official gave the winner’s bouquet.
Rep. Abraham “Bembol” 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 while filming the historic event off stage. And when the Philippine National Anthem “Lupang Hinirang” was played and the country’s colors were raised for the very first time in Olympic history, all emotions went loose.
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.
Diaz already won an Olympic silver medal in 2016 Rio Olympics.
The entire country celebrated her success, and all newspapers reports eclipsed the last State of the Nation Address of President Rodrigo Duterte, preferring to make Diaz’s landmark win their banner story the next day.
A sergeant with the Philippine Air Force, Diaz defeated China’s Liao Qiuyun in the 55 kg final, in what was tantamount to a psychological chess game, with their coaches trying to outguess each other on what step their opponent would take.
Diaz had actually lost to Liao the last time they competed, even landing a poor fourth place. But that was part of her coaching staff’s game plan, to make the Chinese believe that Diaz was a spent force in the tough sport.
With a final clean and jerk at 127 kilograms, Diaz cried tears of joy when she realized that she had beaten her opponent by two kilos, setting an Olympic record in the process, and matching the existing world record.
It was the first time in her career that she had ever lifted that much, but she had no choice. Had she gone for a slightly lower weight, the gold would have gone to Liao.
Diaz again shed tears when she received her medal and the Philippine national anthem was played for the first time in the Olympics while the Philippine flag was raised above those of her competitors. National anthems are only played for gold medal winners, not silver or bronze.
Speaking to media later, she said she almost believed making it to the Olympics was impossible due to the pandemic.
“Never surrender no matter the challenges and trials. Pray to God. Proud to be Pinoy!” she stressed.
Diaz admitted that there were times when she wanted to give up her quest for Olympic gold after she did not receive sufficient financial support for her training. Also, she said she was disheartened when she was accused of being part of a clandestine Oust Duterte movement.
Even Presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo had practically declared her guilty three years ago by saying, “Our intelligence report is very credible” and that Diaz was part of the drug list. Being a silver medalist did not mean a thing, Panelo said.
At that time, Diaz said she feared for her life and the safety of her family.
This week, Panelo ate his words. After Malacanang sent her a congratulatory message, Panelo said, “Congratulations, Ma’am Hidilyn for the gold. We always know that you will bring honor to our country, that’s why the Duterte administration always extend its support to you!”
She is also expected to earn millions more in product endorsements.
Shortly after winning, Diaz said she had thought of retiring, but changed her mind because she feels she can still win more honors for the Philippines.
In the meantime, she is expected to continue her studies at De La Salle University’s College of St. Benilde, where Diaz is working her way to a bachelor’s degree in business management.