Triumphant weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz has her sights set firmly on Olympic gold, inspired by her new Chinese coach, but first she might just indulge in a guilty passion—cheesecake and bubble tea.
“The sacrifices you make are so hard when you’re training every day,” she told AFP after winning the Philippines’ first gold medal of the 2018 Asian Games on Tuesday.
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“I can’t eat sugar and sweets. I miss eating cheesecake and drinking bubble tea with friends. It’s hard,” said the sweet-toothed 27-year-old from the southern Philippines island of Mindanao.
Diaz was already assured a place in her country’s sporting folklore, alongside the likes of Manny Pacquiao, as the only woman from the sprawling archipelago ever to win an Olympic medal.
But now, with top Chinese coach Gao Kaiwen making “a difference” in her corner, she believes she can turn Rio 2016 silver into Tokyo 2020 gold after winning the women’s 53kg event in Jakarta.
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“My coach has been with me for two months,” she said of Gao, who is also head coach of the Chinese national women’s army team.
“I am so grateful for him. He made a difference in my lifts. He’s a positive person and I like to have him around me,” she added immediately after being presented with her medal.
Gao has coached multiple Chinese Olympic medallists including 2012 women’s 75kg+ gold medallist Zhou Lulu.
His experience has been invaluable to Philippines Air Force servicewoman Diaz, who has blossomed late in her weightlifting career—she did not even qualify for the last Asian Games in Incheon four years ago, before her breakthrough in Rio.
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“He changed my technique and more than that made me understand why I need to make the change if I want to win Tokyo 2020.”
Gao introduced new routines and heavier weights in training and the results are clear—Diaz lifted 53kg personal bests of 92kg in the snatch and 115kg in the clean and jerk in Jakarta to total 7kg greater than her Olympic silver effort two years ago.
Realise a dream -
“That change in technique has given me even more confidence,” she said, believing she can push those bests even higher in Tokyo.
“I’m really confident (of lifting more) because I was able to lift 115kg in training,” she said.
“I just need to know my technique and visualise it. This result proves the Olympic gold medal is possible.” First she needs to qualify for Tokyo, a cycle that starts at November’s world championships in Turkmenistan.
Meanwhile the busy Diaz will attempt to juggle training with her air force career, college studies and managing her new weightlifting gym opened last year in her home town of Zamboanga in Mindanao.
“I don’t know if I will win (the world title) because I will go back to school,” she said.
“But I will do my best.” Diaz’s victory could reportedly be worth as much as six million pisos ($112,000) in bonuses awarded to Philippines gold medallists from the government, National Olympic Committee and other organisations.
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She said she would invest the money in her gym to give back to weightlifting in the Philippines and leave a legacy after she retires—Tokyo 2020 will be her last event.
“My main goal is to help out kids in my hometown and realise their dream in weightlifting,” she said.
“This sport could change their lives and hopefully they could become just like me in the future.”