Hidilyn Diaz sprung a major surprise in the Philippines by winning a weightlifting silver medal in Rio — the country’s first Olympic medal in 20 years, officials said Monday.
Sports analysts in the Philippines had not expected the 5’2 tall Diaz to bag a medal at the 2016 Games after coming up empty in 2008 and 2012 games.
“We had high hopes with other sports. So (Cruz’s medal) is a surprise. A lot of people didn’t expect she would take a medal,” said Ronel Abrenica, executive-director of the Philippine Sports Commission.
But Abrenica said he noticed something from the 25-year-old, who became the first woman from the Philippines ever to win an Olympic medal.
“I was watching her before. I saw her sincerity and determination. You could see it in the way she talks. She was determined to win. She had the fire in the belly,” he said.
“Before she set off (for Rio), she told me, ‘at least, I can get a bronze’. So this (silver) is a bonus,” said Abrenica.
Diaz took the silver in the 53kg class, the first ever by a Filipino weightlifter.
It was the first Olympic medal for the Southeast Asian nation since boxer Mansueto Velasco took a silver in the 1996 games.
Diaz, a member of the Philippine Air Force, dedicated the win to her mother, Emelita, who celebrated her 53rd birthday Sunday. She said they spoke on the phone after the victory and was told that her mother, based in Zamboanga City, cried watching her.
She also thanked physician Ferdinand Brawner and chiropractic expert Martin Camara who are with the Philippine delegation as well as her conditioning coach in Manila, Jay Putalan.
With her victory, Diaz will get a P5 million prize, Abrenica said.
He added that the sports commission, which is in charge of funding the country’s sports programs, was also working with “private partners” to get Diaz additional benefits.
Diaz will also get a house and lot from developer 8990 Deca Homes, a real state company, according to Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez.
“I’m extremely happy. At 4:30 this morning I have informed the President about this great news of Diaz winning a silver medal. I could still remember her training in Guangzi province, China in 2006. We enhanced her exposure to foreign competitions,” Ramirez told The Manila Times.
“Today is a great day for Philippine sports. Hidilyn proved that we Filipinos can excel against the best in the world. The lady athlete from Mindanao just made her country proud.”
The two Filipino boxers in the 13-member contingent were considered to have the best chances, as boxers had won five of the country’s previous nine Olympic medals, sports analysts had said.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Martin Andanar congratulated Diaz, saying “hers is (an inspiring story) about overcoming shyness but for an inspired nation, her road to Rio is a journey of grit, patience and determination.”
He also said that Diaz is the country’s first Olympic medallist from Duterte’s home southern region of Mindanao.
Like other Filipino sports heroes, such as boxing hero Manny Pacquiao, Diaz can also likely count on lucrative commercial offers once she returns home, he added.
AFP with reports from Josef Ramos, Jean Russel David, Frank Calapre and PNA