OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

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  • By EDDIE G. AINEA
    “To be a champion, you have to believe in yourelf when nobody else will.”
    Sugar Ry Robinson
    The Philippines had just ended its long, 20-year thirst for an Olympic medal when Hidilyn Diaz, a short, but well-built Hidilyn Diaz surprised everyone, except herelf, by ending up with a silver medal in the 53-kg.  division of weightlifting last week in the Games of the XXXI Olympiad going on in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
    Besides duplicating the silver medal feats fashioned by boxers Anthony “Boy”  Villanueva in Tokyo in 1964 and Mansueto “Onyok” eaxctly two decade ago in Atlanta, the 25-year old wonder girl from Zamboanga, a three-time Olympian,  became the first Filipina to have gifted the country an Olympic medal of any color.
    But had the 25-year-old yielded to the pressure exerted on her by the high priests in he Philippine Olympic committee to retire, the national Olympic delegation would have to return home bringing along, a big flat egg like the past four Games following Velasco’s heroics in 1996.
    Reason why Diaz’s silver medal efforts could not have been sweeter for her, who had to survive one adversity after another to earn her ticket to Rio.
    A  failure the first two times she tried her luck — in 2008 at a young age 17 in Beijing and four years later in London both as wild card entry — started Diaz’s agony with the firing of her ex-personal coach Elmer Atilano.
     Without her coach, Diaz next  failed to make the grade in her bid for a alot in the national Asian Games contingent  in Inchon, South Korea two years later in 2014.
    “Not that Hidilyn had directly been told to retire, but events following my firing as her coach pointed to that,” Atilano assessed. “They (POC) really set Hidilyn up para di siya makarating sa Rio”
    Having been his student for 16 years, norturing Diaz to her  proper place in the national training pool and eventually Olympian, Atilano knew Diaz too well, her assets and weaknesses. What he lacked and how to solve them.
    The coach and he student then charted ways nd means Diaz would tread on the road to Rio.
    “First na-realize namin na she’s not fit in her division. She weighed 57.9 kilograms, but competing in he 58-kg level was too heavy for her. So, kailangan magbawas siya ng timbang at mag-compete sa mas mababang dibisyon. In the 53 kg. category, to be exact, “Atilano revealed in a one-on-one interview with this writer on he eve of Diaz’s arrival last Thursday.
    “That  was the hardest part of course,  of our efforts to resurrect her carreer. She was eating like no one did so, napakalaking sakripisyo para kay Hidilyin,”  Atilano said. “But to her credit, sinunod niya ang program na inihanda ng nutritionist provided by the PSC (Philippine Sports Commission) para sa kanyang diet.”
    The program did wonder. Diaz lost five pounds in a matter of months. Soon her body weight was reduced  to just 52.8 kilograms, which she maintained for her to be able to compete in the 53 kg. division,” her coach recalled.
    The rest, as they say, is history. Last year alone, Hidilyn collected five  medals in four diffeffent inernational competitions she took part in, including three bronze medals in the world championships held in Houston, Texas to qualify outright in the Rio Olympics.
    Perseverance, mental toughness, belief in what she can do, and her faith in Somebody up there, Atilano asserted, are the new weapons Hidilyn had added in her arsenal the past two years of a rebuilding program she underwent since losing in her attempt and failed to make it to the Asian Games.
    “Before completely regaining her form, I told her may kulang pa. I reminded  her she, too, need the Lord para hindi mawala ang lahat ng naipon niya sa dalawang taong pagsa-sakripisyo niya,” Atilano id.  “I made her attend the mass every Sunday which she has religiously been doing up to this day,”
    The Philippine Air Force sergeant, likewise, emerged the first Olympian from Mindanao to have earned the honor reserved only to her peers from Luzon and the Visayas in the past 91 years of the country’s paticipation in the summer festival called the “Greatest Sports Show on Earth.”
    Dia’s silver medal haul came, too, as the first in weightlifting since sprinter David Nepomuceno, coached by Regino Ylanan, inscribed the Philippines’ name in the Olympic map fir the first time in 1924 in Paris.
    That  raised the Philippines’ medl hawrvewet to a total 10, counting the seven bronze-tinted software collected earlier in swimming, boxing and track and field.
    Tanker Teofilo Yldefonso became the winningest Filipino Olympian with pair of third place finishes he took in 1928 in Amsterdam and in 1932 in Los Angeles. Other Filipino bronze medalist are simonpures Jose “Cely” Villanueva,  Anthony’s father, Leopoldo Serrantes and Roel Velasco, Onyok’s” brother, long jumper Simeon Toribio and hurdler Miguel White.
    Photo by Kiwi Bulaclac / mb.com.ph

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