Hidilyn Diaz, a 30-year-old weightlifter from the Philippines, won her country’s first-ever Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo Games on Monday.
Diaz’s groundbreaking win comes after nearly 100 years of Filipino athletes competing at the Olympics. Her victory was surprising even to her, she said in her post-match interview.
“I am 30 years old, and I thought it would be, like, going down — my performance — but I was shocked I was able to do it,” said Diaz, a sergeant in the Philippine Air Force who began lifting homemade weights as a child.
She immediately began crying and fell to her knees when she realized that she’d not only placed first, but also set a new Olympic record by lifting a combined weight of 224 kilograms ― more than 490 pounds ― with her two successful lifts.
Diaz secured gold in the clean and jerk by out-lifting Chinese Olympian Liao Qiuyun, the former world record-holder in the event. The clean and jerk requires the athlete to lift the barbell from the floor, hover it in front of their shoulders, and then thrust it into a hold high overhead.
Diaz and Liao each lifted 97 kilograms ― about 214 pounds ― in the snatch, another event in which athletes lift the barbells from the ground to overhead in one swift move. Though Liao lifted an impressive 126 kilograms in the clean and jerk, Diaz eked out a win by lifting 127.
Before winning the gold medal on Monday, Diaz had already earned Olympic hero status when she won silver in weightlifting at the 2016 Rio Games, making her the first woman from the Philippines to ever win an Olympic medal.
Despite that success, her path to Tokyo was sometimes bumpy. In 2019, she pleaded for more financial support on social media in order to make it to the Tokyo Games. The public appeal ruffled feathers at the Philippine Sports Commission, but the two parties appear to have settled the matter.
Then, while traveling through Malaysia last year on her way to an Olympic qualifying event, the country implemented a strict COVID-19 travel ban, stranding Diaz there for five months and forcing her to build her own gym and train with water bottles in order to keep up her training regimen.
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