(Courtesy of Philippine Sports Commission)

CATBALOGAN CITY – Finally, after 97 long years, the elusive Olympic gold has finally been taken by the Philippines – beating China and Kazakhstan.

Hidilyn Diaz, a native of Zamboanga City, became the first Filipino athlete to win it all in an Olympic event after winning the women’s 55-kg. weightlifting competition at the Tokyo International Forum in Japan on Monday night.

Of her winning the first ever gold medal for the country, Diaz was expected to gain at least P35.5 million from various people and agencies who pledged monetary rewards to the gold medal winners plus more or less P20-M worth of free houses, cars, gas, flights and other remunerations.

Under RA 10699 or the National Athletes and Coaches Incentive Act, Diaz will receive P10-M from Philippine government, P10-M from Manny V. Pangilinan, P10-M from Ramon S. Ang, P3-M from deputy speaker Mikee Romero, and P2.5-M from her hometown as law.

Aside from cash, she will also receive P14-M worth of condominium unit (house and lot) from Megaworld, another P4-M worth of house and lot from another sponsor, an 80,000 miles per year free air flights from Air Asia, free lifetime supply of gasoline from Petrolium, a brand new Transvan from Foton Philippines.  

Diaz, the 2016 Rio Olympics silver medalist, 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.

“I don’t know what to say. It’s a dream come true. I just want to say that we Filipinos are strong. We Filipinos can compete here at the Olympics. We can do it,” a high-spirited Diaz was quoted as saying by Xinhuanet. 

The 30-year-old Diaz gave advice to younger Filipino athletes to “please dream high.”

“That’s how I started. I dreamed high and finally, I was able to do it,” she added.

Liao admitted that she was surprised by Diaz’s improvement.

“I feel good today. I can lift 123kg at most due to injuries, and never thought of a successful 126kg lift. I didn’t expect her strength like this,” Liao said.

China’s coach Zhang Guozheng echoed Liao’s thoughts.

“I didn’t expect such a situation,” he said. “Liao has gone all out, so it’s not a huge pity for her to lose the gold medal. It’s just because we did not expect our opponent (Diaz) to be so strong.”

Zulfiya Chinshanlo of Kazakhstan claimed the bronze with a total of 213 kg. lifted.

Muattar Nabieva of Uzbekistan, despite setting the Olympic record for the snatch with a 98-kg. lift, missed out on the podium as she could only clear 114 in the C&J for a total of 212.

Palace congratulates Diaz

Malacañang joined the entire nation in celebrating the country’s first-ever Olympic gold medal since it joined the most prestigious quadrennial event in 1924.

“The Palace congratulates Hidilyn Diaz for bringing pride and glory to the Philippines for winning the country’s first-ever Olympic gold medal,” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.

“Congratulations, Hidilyn. The entire Filipino nation is proud of you. Laban, Pilipinas! (Fight Philippines!),” he added.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar said Diaz’s golden performance showcased the Filipinos’ talent as world-class athletes.

“We are one with the Filipino nation in celebrating the remarkable and historic success of Hidilyn Diaz in the recently held Women’s 55-kg. Weightlifting Competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,” Andanar said. “This win gave the Philippines its very first Olympic gold medal and showcased (the) Filipinos’ talent as world-class athletes.”

Diaz was earlier bashed by trolls and nearly quit her ambition for the Olympics when she complained of government lack of support to Philippine athletes. She was also tagged in a matrix of the Malacanang involving her in an alleged plot to oust President Duterte. But after her winning, the spokespersons of the government denied that they red-tagged her.

Promoted after winning

Diaz, also a Philippine Air Force (PAF) sergeant, gets promoted to the next rank following her historic gold medal win for weightlifting in the Tokyo Games.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana has lauded the initiative of the PAF to promote Diaz to the rank of staff sergeant effective July 27.

Sobejana said the promotion seeks to distinguish the Filipina’s achievement in the field of sports and for bringing pride and glory to the country.

Diaz’s Olympic gold is the country’s first after almost a century since joining the Olympiad.

“Congratulations, Staff Sgt. Diaz. The AFP is proud of your accomplishments and may you continue to serve as an inspiration to your fellow service members,” Sobejana said.

Diaz, who hails from Zamboanga, entered the PAF as active personnel in 2013.

She also brought home the silver medal in the Rio Olympics 2016; gold medal at the Asian Games in 2018; and, the gold medal during the Southeast Asian Games in 2019. (With PNA reports)