May 29, 2024

GUTS AND GLORY | Bittersweet moment as Hidilyn Diaz passes torch to Elreen Ando for Paris Olympics berth

GUTS AND GLORY | Bittersweet moment as Hidilyn Diaz passes torch to Elreen Ando for Paris Olympics berth
In a twist of fate, Hidilyn Diaz and Elreen Ando had to compete for the Philippines' lone Olympic berth at the women's 59kg weightlifting division. | Art by Mitzi Solano/One Sports

It was a bittersweet moment for most Filipino sports fans. On one side, you’re happy for Elreen Ando with her return to the Olympics. On the other side, your heart breaks for Hidilyn Diaz as her quest to become a five-time Olympian ended just like that.

Such is the brutality of weightlifting as a sport. There’s no room for personal judgment. There’s nothing subjective. Diaz’s ability to rise to the occasion, her capacity to win the big one, and her willingness to dig deep and defy the odds under the bright lights of Olympic competition could not sway things in her favor. There’s no emotion involved in deciding which Filipina weightlifter is heading to Paris.

Instead, the lone decider was the weight on the bar.

In the IWF World Cup, a Paris 2024 Olympics qualifier event, Ando finished seventh in the women’s 59kg weight division with a final tally of 228kg (100kg in snatch and 128kg in clean and jerk). Diaz ended up 11th with a final mark of 222kg (99kg in snatch and 123kg in clean and jerk).

This officially ends the dream of Paris for Diaz. At 33 years of age, it’s highly unlikely she could give the 2028 Los Angeles games a try.

The ending was so abrupt that it caught many off guard, even though we all knew this collision was coming. Diaz and Ando both competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with the latter giving the Philippines its first gold by topping the 55kg division. The latter finished seventh in the 64kg weight division.

  

The problem was that the IWF reduced the Olympic weight divisions from 14 to 10, taking two weight divisions each in the men’s and women’s sides. Unfortunately for the Philippines, the two divisions scratched were that of Diaz and Ando, forcing them to converge at 59kg.

Diaz moving down in weight to 49kg was no longer possible. Ando moving up to 71kg would force her to take on much stronger competitors. So the only plausible way for both of them was to be in each other’s path.

Ando gave Diaz the space she needed. In the Phnom Penh SEA Games, the younger weightlifter competed in the 59kg division as Diaz decided to skip the tournament to focus all her efforts on moving up in weight the correct way.

In the Hangzhou Asian Games, Ando moved up temporarily to her old stomping grounds at 64kg where she won a bronze, which allowed Diaz to see action at 59kg where she finished fourth.

  

  

But in the end, this still had to happen. Two Filipinas. Two Olympics dreams. Only one will turn into reality.

The exchange was gut-wrenching. In snatch, Diaz started with a safe 95kg, which was overtaken by Ando’s 98kg. After that point, it was all about just trying to get the lead. Diaz upped her mark to 99kg, Ando picked up 100kg. Both athletes failed in their respective third lifts.

In clean and jerk, Diaz knew she needed to clear Ando by 2kg. Being her pet event, a comeback was still very much in the realm of possibility. Diaz opened at 123kg and then Ando had a no-lift at 125kg.

However, she recovered with her second lift still at 125kg to put the pressure on Diaz. The Olympic gold medalist had no other choice but to put 127kg at the bar, which ironically was her third and winning lift in Tokyo.

This time though there was no miraculous finish, no come-from-behind win. Diaz failed to lift 127kg and then failed again, passing the torch to Ando in the process. The younger lifter got back to the stage and completed 128kg for her final lift to leave no doubt about whose day it was.

  

The only thing left for us to do now is still give our total support to both athletes. Let us not burden Ando with the expectation of a gold medal just because she out-qualified Diaz. Allow Ando to create her own legacy and remember that even Diaz did not win a medal until her third Olympic stint.

 

For Diaz, rest is what’s up next. A honeymoon, for sure. A baby, maybe. However, she has expressed her willingness to continue her career in weightlifting. It’s unfortunate that 55kg was scratched in the Olympics but it’s still there in the World Championships and in the SEA Games next year. Maybe these events could be her swan song that will also allow her millions of supporters to properly say goodbye.

While there will undoubtedly be more Filipino Olympic gold medalists in the future, Hidilyn Diaz will always be our first. Her Olympic run may have run out of time, but her legend will live forever.


Carlo Pamintuan was the local commentator for weightlifting during Hidilyn Diaz and Elreen Ando's stints during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He was also provided the commentary during the 31st Southeast Asian Games and the 19th Asian Games.