Surprise silver medal for Philippines

A successful lift by Hidilyn Diaz in the 53kg event, in which her combined total of 200kg earned her the silver. It was the first time in 20 years the Philippines had won an Olympic medal, and Diaz became the country's first female medallist in the h
A successful lift by Hidilyn Diaz in the 53kg event, in which her combined total of 200kg earned her the silver. It was the first time in 20 years the Philippines had won an Olympic medal, and Diaz became the country's first female medallist in the history of the Games.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RIO DE JANEIRO • She stands at only 1.52m, but weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz made a big impact on her native Philippines by winning a silver medal in the women's 53kg class.

It ended the country's 20-year medal drought at the Olympics, a point not lost on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose spokesman Ernesto Abella said: "We extend our sincerest congratulations and celebrate the end of the medal drought. Truly, change has come."

"I didn't doubt myself today," the 25-year-old athlete from the strife-torn southern province of Zamboanga told The Straits Times via Facebook Messenger, after becoming the country's first woman to win an Olympic medal.

The last time a Filipino stood on an Olympic podium was in 1996, when light-flyweight boxer Mansueto Velasco claimed a silver.

Diaz lifted a total of 200kg - 88kg in the snatch and 112kg in the clean and jerk - that assured her of a bronze medal, which was all she had hoped for.

But China's Li Yajun failed in her third and final attempt to lift 126kg, knocking her out of the contest. That handed the silver to Diaz, behind Chinese Taipei's Hsu Shu-ching, who lifted a total of 212kg (100kg, 112kg).

South Korea's Yoon Jin Hee settled for the bronze.

While Diaz had been targeting a bronze - on the back of a gold at the Asian Championships and a bronze at the World Championships last year - her medal still surprised her countrymen.

After all, she had been to the Olympics twice (2008, 2012) and returned empty-handed each time.

In a statement, Vice-President Leni Robredo added: "You amazed us with your skill, perseverance and grit amid all that you had been through."

Eight-division world boxing champion and now Senator Manny Pacquiao tweeted: "I am proud of you."

Diaz's success continues South-east Asia's fine run at the Rio Games. On Saturday, Vietnamese shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh and Thai lifter Sopita Tanasan both claimed gold medals. That helped bury the disappointment of 2012, when the region's athletes returned from London with no titles.

In the build-up to Rio, ST sought to profile some of South-east Asia's finest athletes, and Hoang and Diaz were part of that project.

Diaz's silver medal entitles her to prize money of five million pesos (S$144,000). She said she plans to use the money to buy a property for her parents and maybe put up a small gym for aspiring weightlifters in her home town.

But that is likely to be just the beginning. Ronel Abrenica, executive director of the Philippine Sports Commission, added that the commission, in charge of funding the country's sports programmes, was also working with "private partners" to get Diaz additional benefits. She is also likely to receive lucrative commercial offers when she returns, as is the tradition with the country's top sports stars.

It is no wonder some are noting that the silver glitters like gold.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

• Additional reporting by Raul Dancel

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2016, with the headline 'Surprise silver medal for Philippines'. Print Edition | Subscribe