April 14, 2024

GUTS AND GLORY | Remember her name: Rosalinda Faustino out to leave mark in weightlifting

GUTS AND GLORY | Remember her name: Rosalinda Faustino out to leave mark in weightlifting
Art by Royce Nicdao

The final count that determines success in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games will always be the gold medals. The Philippines finished fifth overall with 58 golds but sometimes the stories about the silvers are just as good.

A silver medal does not mean failure. It means there’s an opportunity to get better. Pair this chance up with the promise of youth and you can have something truly special when the next SEA Games come around.

Such is the story of Rosalinda “Rose” Faustino.

The first part of her narrative is that she competed in the women’s 55-kilogram division in weightlifting, where Hidilyn Diaz used to be the queen. At only 15 years of age, all Faustino wanted was to compete for a bronze medal. This was her target as Vietnam and Thailand looked like locks for the top two spots while Indonesia was going to be her match-up for the final podium spot.

However, with the weightlifter from Thailand suffering an injury during snatch and the Vietnamese athlete failing to get a single good lift at clean and jerk, an opportunity arose for the young Rose.

With the last lift of the competition, Faustino had 107 kilograms at the bar. A good lift will give her a one-kilo advantage over Juliana Klarisa of Indonesia and the gold medal. However, it was not meant to be. She lost the grip of the bar on the way up as she smiled her way down the podium.

“Kulang pa po siguro ako sa experience,” she said after the lift. “Parang inisip ko na masaya na ako sa silver kasi bronze lang naman talaga 'yung target ko dito.”

As a 15-year-old athlete, it’s easy to understand why the challenge to be successful is both mental and physical. Without the life and competition experiences of the seasoned athletes, Faustino is still in the process of figuring out who she is and what kind of athlete she will be.

She felt okay with the silver medal now but in time she’ll realize that settling will never be good for her. She’s too talented and too strong to not shoot for the very top.

Perspective is always key when looking at a silver medal. If it was in men’s basketball, it would have been a huge letdown. A silver in the loaded field of badminton would have been an unbelievable achievement. Faustino’s silver was by no means unique as her fellow young weightlifters also picked up the same in 16-year-old Angeline Colonia (45 kg) and 18-year-old Lovely Inan (49 kg) but it is a story that needs to be told because of how quickly she turned herself from a non-athlete to a SEA Games silver medalist.

“Nag-start ako dahil sa tatay ni Angeline,” Faustino said. “Sinabi niya lang sa akin na may potential ako kasi 'yung katawan ko parang solid daw.”

In the Philippines, the possibility of athletic ability is always initially based on height but in Zamboanga, the hotbed of weightlifting, in the country, they don’t search for six-footers, they look for athletes who are built strong.

“Sabi rin nung tatay ko subukan ko raw kasi wala namang mawawala kaya tinuloy ko na,” Faustino said.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing at the start as she struggled in her first few tries to compete.

“May mga local na competition akong sinalihan nung 12 years old ako. Naka-ilang beses akong na-zero sa laro kaya na-discourage ako. Parang wala naman talaga akong chance sa weightlifting,” she said.

Thankfully, a supportive community around her kept her motivated. 2019 SEA Games silver medalist weightlifter Margaret Colonia implored Faustino to keep going. Her coaches lent their support and preached patience so she did.

“Dun ko na-realize na may mga tao talaga na nandiyan para sa akin.”

Faustino kept training as she bought in to the idea that weightlifting will now be a lifelong career for her. As the calluses on her hands got thicker and thicker, she got stronger as well leading to an opportunity to compete internationally at the 2022 Asian Youth and Junior Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Three Filipinas dominated the three lightest weight divisions as they went home with eight of the possible nine golds. Faustino got three for herself with 71 kg in snatch, 90 kg in clean and jerk, and 161 in total. Angeline Colonia and Rose Jean Ramos were the other two Filipina gold medalists.

“Doon pa lang talaga ako naniwala na may potential talaga ako sa weightlifting,” she bared.

From competing at 49 kg in 2022, Faustino moved up to 55 kg in 2023 as she entered the Youth World Weightlifting Championships. A wrist injury hurt her performance in snatch but she rebounded with a gold in clean and jerk (100 kg) and a silver in total (178 kg).

A 17-kilogram upgrade from her last two international competitions only means that she’s taking major strides in the right direction. Now she sees a bright future in the sport and she has the ones that came before to thank.

In the next days after she won her silver, Faustino cheered from the bleachers as she watched Elreen Ando and Vanessa Sarno not just win but dominate their way to gold medals. The Grade 10 student from Culianan National High School could not help but be excited about what she could accomplish in the next SEA Games come 2025.

“Sobrang laking inspirasyon po sila sa akin kasi iniisip ko lang ay kung kinaya nila, kakayanin ko rin,” Faustino closed.

In women’s weightlifting, the Asian level is the World level. Asian athletes dominated in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics winning more than half of the available medals and five of the seven golds compared to the rest of the world.

The good thing for Faustino is that there’s already a playbook that is available for her. Winning youth competitions is a great start. Keeping in pace with the division’s best in juniors is the next step and then gunning for the senior's podium is the final goal.

The 2023 Cambodia SEA Games might be the first time that Filipino sports fans got a glimpse of Faustino but it certainly won’t be the last.

Iron Rose will be here to stay.