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Believe

In a country where extraordinary stories of our famed resilience somehow managing to triumph over adversity have been few and far between, the Filipino people have in recent years learned to lower standards and expectations, especially from our countrymen in a position to make a difference.

When we sent our Olympic delegation to the Tokyo 2020 games, most of us didn’t expect much from our athletes who have mostly been training and qualifying for the games on their own accord, with minimal support from a government that had other priorities.

That nonchalant attitude towards the Olympic games and the excellence that is demanded from its participants was turned on its head on Monday when Filipino weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz won the gold medal in the 55-kg division, dramatically ending the country’s 94-year drought that began when we first participated in the 1924 Olympics.

Diaz beat her opponent from China Liao Quiyun, a reigning world champion and set a new Olympic record on her way to the country’s first ever gold medal.

“This proves we can do it,” she told journalists at the Tokyo International Forum. “They said this was impossible. I thought this was impossible. But the Filipino can do it. We just have to believe.”

Believe she needed to, because the route Hidilyn Diaz took to the gold medal was long and arduous. Born to poverty, she took to weightlifting at age 11 as a way out. In her first Olympic games at Beijing 2008, she was the youngest competitor in her category and placed second to the last. A disastrous result in the 2012 London games where her official result was “did not finish” failed to discourage her and after years of steady improvement, Hidilyn went to Rio 2016 and won the country’s first silver medal in 20 years.

As she prepared for Tokyo 2020, Diaz’s training was sidetracked by her own government when then Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo included her name in a matrix of personalities allegedly involved in an ouster plot against President Rodrigo Duterte. As if her problem with getting enough support for her training wasn’t enough, the unfounded allegations and the resulting threat to her safety added to the degree of difficulty in her already uphill battle for Olympic glory.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Hidilyn was stranded while training in Malaysia. She spent the run up to this year’s summer games living in the house of a Malaysian weightlifting official, forced by quarantine restrictions to train in a sweltering open-air carport.

But in true Filipino fashion, Hidilyn Diaz persevered, gave it her all, and finally prevailed. Her amazing gold medal now serves as an inspiration to her countrymen who have been facing their own difficulties and challenges as they pursue their lifelong dreams, also on their own.

As we congratulate Hidilyn Diaz for her monumental achievement, we also thank her from the bottom of our hearts for giving us the inspiration to never settle for mediocrity and to soldier on despite the challenges. If she can go for gold and make it, we can also make our seemingly impossible dreams for ourselves and our nation come true.*

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