UPSIDE: Brava, Filipina champs

IN NEAR TEARS, Tokyo Olympics gold medalist and new records holder Hidilyn Diaz stands at the podium


Filipinas on both sides of the Pacific Ocean made headlines these past weeks for all the triumphant reasons.

Everyone who identifies as Filipino must be feeling mighty proud with weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz taking home the Philippines’ first gold in any official competitive Olympics after cleaning and jerking 127 kg and a total 224 kg in the women’s 55 kg division. However way you do the math, Diaz, 30, lifted more than Olympic records:  She gifted her compatriots around the world reason to celebrate this dreary time.

To be historically accurate, Arianna Cepeda got gold in bowling as an exhibition sport in the 1988 Olympics, and brava for her.  Diaz is the first to get the Philippine national anthem fill the halls of the international meet at the awards rites since participating in 1924.

Diaz, a Zamboanga City native and staff sergeant with the Philippine Air Force, halted studies in  computer science at the University of Zamboanga then business management at De la Salle – College of St. Benilde to concentrate on training for regional and international tilts.  The lone PH national to grab the gold in the games postponed from last year, she’s not the only champion of Philippine descent.

Ohio-born fencer Lee Kiefer stoked Filipino, American and Filipino American pride when she swiped the gold for individual foil fencing, a first for the United States.  Kiefer, daughter of Teresa – a Filipina psychiatrist originally from Davao, is 27 and married to fellow Olympic fencer and Asian American1Gerek Meinhardt. 

Both champions have honed their sport through decades, winning global individual and group tournaments.  Diaz hoisted the Philippine flag in the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London games. Her road to gold has been challenging as it has been for most athletes.  Last year she was stranded in Malaysia because of Covid travel restrictions.  She has been in the care of a sports psychologist and a trauma therapist.  Doubtlessly adding to her stress was the inclusion of her name but was later recalled by the then-presidential spokesperson among suspected conspirators against the current Philippine president, though she had dismissed the accusation as ridiculous.  She is reportedly dating a former weightlifter.

Kiefer, who is studying medicine at the University of Kentucky, comes from a family of fencers and doctors.  Her sister Alex is a foil fencer and a doctor; their father is a neurosurgeon. 

The two women’s achievements certainly bring back glorious memories for SF Bay Area residents who earned Olympic fame in the field of social service as torch bearers: Fran Guevara of South San Francisco is a recreation supervisor at the Magnolia Center and Maria Orleman of Daly City is the program director of HART Health Aging Response Team, the nonprofit focused on connecting older adults to resources to live independently, safely.  Brava to you both.