The heart of Hidilyn

By Al S. Mendoza


TOKYO will now go down in history as the repository of our first Olympics gold medal.

There’s more.

It is there where we produced the first Filipino female athlete to rewrite the books multiple times.

Hidilyn Diaz, take a bow.

Hidilyn’s golden victory in weightlifting lifted a country’s sagging spirit amid the still-ravaging pandemic.

It was like pouring rain in searing summer, quenching a gold-medal thirst lasting almost a century.

But more importantly, her gold was a torch that lifted us out from Olympic darkness.

Finally, after 97 years, her triumph ended a gold-medal drought in mankind’s greatest sporting show on earth.

By winning weightlifting’s 55-kg female gold, beating the heavily-favored world champion from China, Hidilyn did not only give us our first Olympic gold medal.

It manufactured more firsts.

In victory, Hidilyn Diaz followed up her silver finish in the 2016 Rio Olympics, becoming the first back-to-back Filipino winner in the quadrennial Games since swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso won successive bronze medals in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics and the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.

For his twin feats, Yldefonso, from Piddig, Ilocos Sur, earned the moniker the “Ilokano Shark.”

Back then, Olympic officials took notice of Yldefonso’s style of flying his arms out from underneath in the breaststroke in a stark deviation from the usual “langoy aso” tradition of keeping the arms close to the chest.

Yldefonso would proceed to become a hero of World War II.  He survived the Death March but, unfortunately, he died at the Japanese-controlled Capas camp at age 39.

It took 89 years to break Yldefonso’s double-medal performance—and with greater value to boot as Hidilyn Diaz’s silver-gold harvest was way above the bronze-bronze finish of the “Ilokano Shark.”

As in many of humanity’s success stories, especially in sports, Hidilyn Diaz was also from the poor folk.

She grew up grappling with poverty as her family lived in the guts of Zamboanga City.

Her father, Eduardo, was a driver of a rented tricycle.

Her mother, Erlinda, was a fish vendor.

They now live comfortably in their own home—built for them by Hidilyn’s 2016 Rio Olympics’ bonus of P5 million.

As a kid, Hidilyn, the fifth of six children, was into volleyball and basketball.  She transferred to weightlifting because her cousins were weightlifters.

One day, a much older male cousin of Hidilyn’s saw Hidilyn carrying in her shoulder improvised “barbells” made of plastic bottles filled with water.

Hidilyn was 9 years old when her cousin started coaching her.

They kept it a secret because Hidilyn’s parents didn’t like their daughter to be a weightlifter.

Then Hidilyn won consistently in barangay tournaments until national officials took notice of her.

Although she would quickly become a national figure, Hidilyn bombed out as a 17-year-old (the youngest ever) in her first Olympics in 2008 Beijing. She was second-to-the-last.

It was worst in her second Olympics in 2012 London: She was “DNF” (Did Not Finish).

But she wouldn’t be discouraged.  She went to the 2016 Rio Olympics—and finished a stunning silver winner.

When she finally won the gold medal in Tokyo 2020 Olympics on July 25, she cried to the nation: “Nothing is impossible.”

Suddenly, she is not only a multi-millionaire, with no less than P50 million now to her name in the bank—and counting.

Include two houses given to her in Tagaytay City and in Zamboanga (courtesy of President Duterte, who added P3 million in cash), and a P14-M condo unit in QC.

There were more bonanzas for her: Free PAL plane ticket for life, 13-seater Foton van, P10 million each from MVP and RSA, and many, many more.

The “water girl” from Zamboanga has become a fairytale story overnight.

Hidilyn’s heart of steel made her name a byword.

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