Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz made history Monday, winning the Philippines’ first gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The country had been trying to reach the podium’s top spot for nearly 100 years: It sent its first Olympic delegation to Paris for the 1924 Games.
Diaz won gold in the 55-kilogram category of women’s weightlifting — and in the process, she also set an Olympic record with her combined weight total of 224 kilograms across two successful lifts.
After her historic win, a tearful Diaz celebrated with her coaches before taking the top spot on the podium in Tokyo. Standing where no Filipino had stood before, Diaz, who serves in the Philippine air force, snapped off a salute and sang along to her country’s national anthem.
“I sacrificed a lot. I wasn’t able to be with my mother and father for how many months and years and then of course, training was excruciating,” Diaz said afterward, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “But God had a plan.”
The gold medal contest came down to Diaz’s last lift, thanks to a tight battle with China’s Liao Qiuyun, the world record-holder in the event.
Both Diaz and Liao lifted 97 kilograms (about 214 pounds) in their first-round snatch lift. For the following clean and jerk, Liao lifted 126 kilograms (nearly 278 pounds). Diaz responded by lifting 127 kilograms — another Olympic record — which finally broke the Philippines’ gold drought. Liao settled for silver, and Zulfiya Chinshanlo of Kazakhstan won bronze.
The snatch lift is very fast as weightlifters try to pick up the bar and raise it above their heads in one smooth motion. The clean and jerk has two main movements: Competitors first lift the bar to their shoulders before raising it above their heads.
By winning a long-awaited gold Monday, Diaz even overshadowed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s final State of the Nation address, Rappler reported.
Diaz, 30, is at her fourth Olympics. Even before Monday’s landmark win, she had secured her place in sports history by winning a silver medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016 — the first medal won by a woman from her country.
Her breakthrough performance in Rio earned Diaz a place in Filipinos’ hearts, particularly as many were inspired by her personal story of rising out of a childhood marked by poverty to pursue her dreams at the highest level.
She took up weightlifting as a child, using plastic pipes that held concrete weights.
“When she was 11, the Filipina was given a barbell to train with after a local weightlifting competition, and she practiced so hard that she wore it out, breaking the bar from overuse,” according to her Olympics bio.
“But people and clubs noticed her dedication and donated more bars to the girl who loved to lift as she became a frequent fixture at every competition she could enter.”