It’s gold or nothing for weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz 

Silver medalist, Hidilyn Diaz of the Philippines celebrates on the podium after the Women's 53kg Group A weightlifting contest at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
Silver medalist, Hidilyn Diaz of the Philippines celebrates on the podium after the Women's 53kg Group A weightlifting contest at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

The Olympic silver medallist is aiming to win gold at Tokyo 2020, for God and country

At Rio 2016, Hidilyn Diaz became the first woman from the Philippines to win an Olympic medal when she captured silver in the women's weightlifting 53kg final.

Now aged 29, the Filipina veteran has rock-solid faith that she’ll stand on the top of the podium at Tokyo 2020 and bring glory to her country.

“I'm still continuing this journey towards the Olympics because I believe that I can win. I believe that God has a plan for me that I believe that I will win at the Olympic Games for the Philippines,” she said in an exclusive interview with the Olympic Channel.

Diaz knows winning another medal in the Olympics will inspire young Filipinos even further.

“Everyone who competes in the Olympics wants to win a medal, but when I won silver I realised that I had become a public figure. Everyone was looking at me, and I realised that I have a responsibility to the Filipinos, and to be a good influence. So that's the power of being an Olympic medallist. You have the ability to influence the younger generation.”

Training in Malaysia – looking back at Rio

The Filipina athlete is now in Malaysia getting ready for her bid for Tokyo 2020, once qualifiers resume. And the athlete shyly admits that it has been a challenge, especially with the postponement of the Games.

"Preparation for the Olympics is hard: the mental part, the physical part, emotional part. And then COVID happened. I thought it would only be two more years until the Olympics, but that turned into three," Diaz said.

"The other challenging thing is the lockdown here in Malaysia. We don’t know anything. I'm a Filipino. My coach is Chinese and the other coach is from Guam. So we don't know anything about Malaysia. And suddenly everything closes and we don't know what to do. We don’t know where we're going to train, where we're going to stay, where we're going to buy our food and everything."

Since March she had been training in Kuala Lumpur but has been forced to move to Malacca 120km away due to an upsurge of cases in the capital. Earlier this year, when they were forced to leave their training facility due to COVID-19, Diaz was forced to rent workout equipment just to push through with her training.

Despite training restrictions, Diaz is one person who thrives when faced with challenges. And it's been proven and proven time and again.

Back in 2014, when she had a knee injury and was unable to compete at the Asian Games, she decided to become fitter and stronger. She also took up the challenge to switch to a lower weight category from 58kg to 53kg, which meant overhauling her whole nutritional regimen.

‘It was my breakthrough as well, because I met a lot of sports science people who opened my mind (about) strength and conditioning. When I competed at 58kg, my food intake was all rubbish junk food. That's when I started to eat healthy. My body dropped (in weight), then my performance improved. When my weight was 56kg, my friend told me that at 53kg I would have more chance of winning the Olympics than at 58. Because there are heavier lifters at 58 that lift better numbers than me. So 53 would be more of an advantage for me.”

It’s this mentality and resilience of a champion that Diaz is hoping to bank on when she competes at Tokyo 2020 – where her category is now going to be changed to 55kg. And it looks like she will also dominate in her new weight class given her three golds the 2020 Roma World Cup in January.

“I feel like 55kg is a good weight for my body. I'm really confident that I can perform well, especially after winning in Roma, because that means I’m in the top three or two (in the world). I just really need to beat the Chinese athletes. I really need to strategise on how to be stronger than when I was at 53kg. It’s a challenging path but I know I can do it.”

It’s also a symbol Filipinos can make it. We can win the gold medal at the Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 - her grand finale?

After competing at Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016, Diaz said that Tokyo 2020 could be her last Olympics.

"I hope so. Because I need life after sports. I don’t know what my body will say… 'Oh, you need to rest. Your body cannot do it anymore'. As you age, you lose your ability for heavy lifting," she answered.

She's hoping to also pursue a degree when her sports career is over.

"I really want the degree because I already have an Olympic medal. But for me, you need the degree with the Olympic medal for you to influence more people, and to have more opportunities after sport. I can play sport forever, and that’s why I need to study."

But before any retirement happens, Diaz's is first bent on doing all she can to ensure she can seize the gold medal for her country.

At the moment she is also trying to secure some funding to be able to represent the Philippines, which is fraught with challenges in itself.

"Because it’s new for the government. It's new for the Filipino people that someone who has done well in an Olympics is continuing their journey towards the next Olympics. I'm the only one doing it."

"I think some people don't understand how hard it is - the journey, the process, the preparation towards the Olympics - because they really don't understand that the level there is so high. I cannot do it alone and that's the thing that I do not like. I cannot make them understand that it's not that easy to win the gold medal in the Olympics.

We need people. We need preparation. I need people behind me.

And if she ever wins that medal, Diaz knows what it will signify for her.

"It would be a symbol of God and a symbol of my sacrifices in training and the people behind me. It’s also a symbol Filipinos can make it. We can win the gold medal at the Olympics. There's no doubt about it, we can win. It's inspirational for younger generations."

"It's also an opportunity to increase more awareness about sport and weightlifting, because it’s my really big dream to have a lot more weightlifters after me."