SEA Games: I can win another gold in Paris 2024, says Philippine weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz

Hidilyn Diaz competes in the 55kg women's clean and jerk weightlifting competition during the 31st SEA Games in Hanoi, on May 20, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HANOI - After the high of Tokyo 2020 came the inevitable letdown. Hidilyn Diaz returned to the Philippines as her country's first Olympic champion and suddenly felt aimless.

Four years of personal sacrifice was vindicated with that weightlifting gold medal but it also brought deep introspection and doubt.

"It was really hard for me to stay motivated because what's next?" she told The Straits Times on Friday (May 20), shortly after retaining her women's 55kg SEA Games title. "But I choose to still continue (despite) what other people say about me having to retire and give a chance to other people.

"I can still do it, my team still believes in me and I know I can still win the gold medal in Paris 2024. As an athlete, I want challenge, I want to level up my training, I want this, so that's my motivation. Paris 2024 is my goal and I won't stop."

The 31-year-old caught Covid-19 earlier this year and was initially worried she would struggle to regain her physical peak. But her renewed drive was evident at the Hanoi Sports Training and Competition Center as she held off fierce competition from a formidable opponent in Sanikun Tanasan.

The Thai, herself an Olympic champion after her win in the 48kg category at Rio 2016, had moved up a weight class in Vietnam. She even took the early lead, lifting a SEA Games snatch record of 93kg, 1kg more than Diaz's effort.

But the Filipina regained the advantage in the clean and jerk segment, lifting 114k for a 206kg total while Sanikun could only manage 110kg and took silver with her 203kg total. Indonesia's Natasha Beteyob (188kg) was third.

Diaz's victory was a popular one. The majority of the crowd inside the hall were her compatriots, waving their national flag and cheering Diaz every time she was on stage.

She was later by swarmed by the Philippines media and her fans and with a broad smile, happily obliged their many requests.

It is something she has gotten used to since Tokyo 2020, Diaz said.

Life has gotten much busier as she juggles her sporting commitments, commercial and sponsorship opportunities, as well as completing her thesis of her Business Management program.

Her elevated national status also means added responsibility and Diaz acknowledged that her actions and words carry more weight now.

Diaz, who was discouraged to pursue a career in weightlifting because of her gender, is determined to use her influence to empower others and grow the sport in the Philippines.

She said: "It's hard. There are a lot of expectations, but as long as I know who I am, what my purpose in life is and why I'm doing this, I choose these things because this is (what I) value. One thing (I want to achieve) is to spread more weightlifting around the Philippines."

Paris 2024 will likely be her Olympic swansong, even though walking away will be tough, she added.

"It's really hard for me to stop because weightlifting is my life. I've been doing weightlifting for 20 years, it's so hard to stop just because I've won a gold medal. I'm already there but I just want to take it slowly, do my best, go for Paris 2024 and we'll see."

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