Hidilyn Diaz has proven that a Pinay can excel in a male-dominated sport after winning a silver medal in the 53-kg division of the weightlifting competition of the ongoing Olympics in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. Diaz ended the Philippines’ two decades of medal draught in the Olympics in her third appearance in the quadrennial meet. The country’s last Olympic silver medal came through pug Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco during the 1996 Atlanta Games.
“Filipinos, especially females, are afraid to try weightlifting because of the thought of having a mannish built when they undergo training—and this, we think, is the misconception that keeps them from the sport,” Blanche Barrun, president of the New Era University Barbell Club, told The Manila Times.
Barrun, who has been a competitive lifter for four years, explained that that is not the case since females do not produce as much testosterone as men.
She added that perceived dangers also kept women away from the sport, “Some parents do not recognize this sport as a good path, as they are afraid it might cause prolapsed uterine in their daughters.”
There is a small community of female weightlifters in the Philippines most of its members are based in Luzon. Among the recognized women teams are University of the East, New Era University (NEU) and University of the Philippines (UP). There are also active groups in Ifugao and Angono.
Barrun said that weightlifting does not receive equal attention compared to basketball and volleyball making it an unsung sport. However, she is now positive that things would be better for her sport because of Diaz’s feat in Rio.
“To have a Filipina lifter bagged a medal in the Olympics, we are eager to train harder and to recruit more competitors. Her success gave us more will to produce future Olympians,” Barrun said.
Barrun added that Diaz has proven that there is equal opportunity for men and women in sports particularly weightlifting, “Weightlifting is all about strength—and, we, women, have strength to partake for the glory of the Philippines.”
Another Filipina weightlifter inspired by Diaz’s triumph in Rio is Ma.Dessa Delos Santos that started in the sport at the age of 11. She is now a member of the Philippine team for five years and has been enjoying her training. She loves the fact that she can “be strong like a man.” In April 2016, she competed with Diaz in the Asian Weightlifting Championship in Uzbekistan, where the latter won a silver and two bronze medals in the women’s 53-kg division.
“Witnessing her success—as a teammate—my heart was booming with so much joy. Everyone in the team was motivated to focus spending their days becoming physically strong so as to follow her footsteps,” Santos said via email interview.
Coach Cecilio Vigal, a former national coach of the Saudi Arabia team, also predicts a boost in weightlifting’s popularity among women in the Philippines because of Diaz.
“Because of the exposure of Diaz, I am 90 percent confident that the female participants will increase in no time,” Vigal said.
Assigned by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) to mentor the NEU team, Vigal is determined to prove that the country does not need to import athletes to compete in international games just to win medals. “All we need are dedicated individuals—true blooded Filipinos. And a leader in the association that could uplift our athletes,” he said.
Vigal believes that the government should not allow politicians and businessmen to head the PSC for they have never experienced the hardships of athletes and therefore cannot empathize with them.