Hero’s welcome for Hidilyn Diaz

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Hidilyn Diaz AFP PHOTO

Hidilyn Diaz AFP PHOTO

Rio Olympics silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz bid her teammates goodbye on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) then boarded an Emirates flight back to the Philippines where she will be treated like a queen the moment she lands at the airport.

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Diaz joined the Philippine delegation here in a thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC). From the restaurant, she and fellow weightlifter Nestor Colonia, and coach Alfonso Aldanete were brought to the airport.

They were scheduled to depart at 2 a.m. Wednesday for a journey that will take at least 25 hours via Dubai. POC second vice president Col. Jeff Tamayo accompanied the small but victorious group in the long flight back home.

Diaz was toasted and cheered during the dinner of Brazilian steak, salad and wine. The Philippine Ambassador to Brazil, Jose Burgos, graced the affair, among other guests, including Brazilians who work for the Games.

The 25-year-old Diaz, who gave the Philippines its first Olympic medal in 20 years, held back her tears as she bid her teammates, including those who are still in contention, goodbye. Most of them have been here in Rio since July 23.

“I’m excited to go home but at the same time sad because I’ll be leaving you. I already fell in love with my teammates here,” said Diaz, who added that she can’t wait to see her parents, Eduardo and Emelita, once she arrives in Manila.

Diaz’ parents will be flown to Manila from Zamboanga City. From the NAIA Terminal 3, the country’s first weightlifter to win an Olympic medal will be taken to Resorts World where she and her family, and her two other companions will stay overnight.

A press conference is being planned at around 6 p.m. at the hotel. If plans push through, Diaz and company will be flown to Zamboanga City the following day on board a private plane courtesy of sports patron Manny V. Pangilinan.

Diaz wants to spend time with her family and enjoy the fiesta in their place in Mambang in Zamboanga on Sunday.

There’s also word that President Duterte wants to see Diaz as early as possible and the meeting could take place in Davao.

“Good luck to all of you. You can do it,” said Diaz, referring to six of her teammates who are still seeing action it the Rio Olympics.

They are swimmer Jasmine Alkhaldi, who will race in the women’s 100m freestyle on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila), golfer Miguel Tabuena who will compete from August 11 to 14, marathoner Mary Joy Tabal who will race on August 14, and long jumper Marestella Torres Sunang and 400m hurdles entry Eric Cray who will both see action on August 16.

Tae kwon do’s Kirstie Elaine Alora will be the last Filipino athlete to compete in this Summer Games, in the women’s +67 kg class on August 20, which is the eve of the closing ceremony.

Tabuena, who’s enjoying the best season of his young professional career, is confident that he can put up a good show against the world’s best, including Justine Rose, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.

Not in the field are top guns Jason Day and Rory McIlroy.

“I guess that makes it a little easier for us,” said Tabuena, will tee off at the par-71 Olympic Golf Course at 9:47 a.m. (8:47 p.m. in Manila), together with Yuta Ikeda and Roope Kako.

Filipino athletes who have bowed out of the competition here are boxers Charly Suarez and Rogen Ladon, table tennis’ Ian Lariba, swimmer Jessie Khing Lacuna, judoka Kodo Nakano and Colonia.

Nakano, a last-minute substitute, was overpowered by Italy’s Marconcini Mateo in only one minute and 19 seconds by Ippon Tuesday morning.

Nakano, a first-time Olympian, couldn’t handle his Italian opponent, a silver medalist in the Almaty Grand Prix in Kazahkstan only last May.

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