Prayers, sacrifices, risks lift Hidilyn Diaz to Olympic history

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 27) — Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz on Tuesday said fervent prayers, her "miraculous" medallion, and countless sacrifices helped her reach her life-long dream. She also shared that a risky move ultimately lifted her to the top of the world sporting stage.

Fresh from her historic win, Diaz revealed her gold medal-winning lift of 127 kilograms in the clean and jerk event on Monday was a move she has never succeeded in doing, except when it mattered the most — the Tokyo Olympics.

"Nata-try ko na siya sa training pero hindi ko nagagawa. Every time nata-try ko 'yun at hindi ko nagagawa, nafu-frustrate ako. Umiiyak ako. Hindi ko inexpect na mabuhat ko 'yun kahapon," she told a virtual media briefing in Tokyo, Japan.

[Translation: I've tried doing it before in training but I never succeeded. Every time I tried and failed, I get frustrated. I cry. I didn't expect I will be able to lift it yesterday.]

The 30-year-old Zamboangeña clinched the country's first Olympic gold medal after dominating the women's -55kg final. She lifted a total of 224 kilograms in the event — an Olympic record — to seal the win for the Philippines. Her lift of 127 kg in the clean and jerk event is also an Olympic record.

Diaz credited her win to all those who prayed for her. Right before she received her gold medal in the podium, she tightly clutched her other prized possession, a Miraculous Medal necklace — a gift from a friend who offered her nine days of prayer for her Olympic bid.

"Nag-novena sila for nine days before my competition. Ako din nag-novena. It's a sign of prayers nila and faith ko rin to Mama Mary and Jesus Christ," she said.

[Translation: They offered a novena before my competition. I also did a novena. It's a sign of their prayers and my faith to Mama Mary and Jesus Christ.]

Diaz's journey to the Olympic gold wasn't smooth. The struggling athlete from a small village in Mampang in Zamboanga had to seek financial assistance via social media to help fund her Olympic quest. She has been separated from her family for over a year when she went to Malaysia in February to train, but got stranded due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Diaz also shared that she stopped pursuing her degree in computer science during her third year to focus on her dreams.

All her hardships led her to the path to the gold on her fourth try in the Olympics.

"Ang daming challenges. Noong una hindi sila naniniwala na kaya kong manalo. Along the way, sinuportahan ako, I am thankful. It is also an eye opener na hindi tayo mananalo sa Olympics kung walang preperasyon and people behind me," she said. "Madami nagsabi na, 'Laos ka na, wala na.' Noong time na 'yun, sabi ng coach ko I have to stop in school, nag-stop ako and give up everything kasi alam ko I have the chance to win in the Olympics kasi naniniwala sa akin ang teammates ko."

[Translation: There were so many challenges. At first they didn't believe I can win. Along the way, I got their support and I am thankful for that. It also opened my eyes that I need preparation and people behind me to win. There were people who said I am no longer popular, I was past my prime. So my coach told me to stop school and I did because I have the chance to win in the Olympics.]

Her team, dubbed Team HD, had no doubt the star athlete had it in her all this time.

"Physically she was ready, so what we needed to do in training was to get her to build her confidence. That was the adjustment we need," Diaz's conditioning coach and boyfriend Julius Naranjo said.

Diaz, Naranjo, and Chinese coach Gao Kaiwen will leave Japan on Wednesday, as Olympic rules state athletes, coaches, officials, and even media are required to leave Japan within 48 hours after the completion of their events or tasks. Diaz will undergo a seven-day hotel quarantine upon arrival in the Philippines.

Philippine Olympic Committee President Abraham Tolentino said they are making plans for her homecoming that abides by COVID-19 protocols.