Hidilyn Diaz's journey to Olympic gold

Hidilyn Diaz made her Olympic debut as a wide-eyed 17-year-old weightlifter just happy to make the trip to Beijing, China to compete in the sport's 58kg division.

Little did anyone know that over a decade later, the Zamboanga native would earn the country's first-ever Olympic gold medal. Diaz made good on the promise of her incredible potential Monday night, when she narrowly beat China's Liao Qiuyun to win the women's 55kg weightlifting division.

To understand how the four-time Olympian's journey culminated with a gold medal let's take a quick look back at her previous campaigns.


Diaz was selected as a wildcard entry for the Beijing Games, becoming the first ever Filipina to compete in weightlifting. She was also just the sixth lifter overall and the first since 1988 to vie for a medal in the sport.

In her third lift, Diaz cleared 97kg -- good for 11th in a field of 17 (initially 19, but two others were disqualified after testing positive for banned substances). However, she failed to manage a lift in the clean and jerk and crashed out in all three attempts at 120kg.


Diaz, 21 at this time, has a Southeast Asian Games silver under her belt and is headed to London with a lot more experience. But it didn't appear to be her time just yet, being one of two competitors to record a DNF in the 58kg division after failing to lift 118kg in three attempts in the clean and jerk.


Heading into Rio, Diaz booked a bunch of pivotal wins by winning gold in the 2015 Asian Weightlifting Championships in Phuket Thailand, a bronze medal in the 2015 World Weightlifting Championships in Houston, Texas, and another third-place finish in the 2016 edition of the Asian tilt in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

There was one common denominator to all her wins: her weight class. This time around, she competed in the 53kg division and found success, compelling Diaz to make the drop heading into Brazil.

The result was nothing short of spectacular, though she did need a late twist in order to win a silver medal -- the country's first in the Summer Olympics since 1996, and the first non-boxing medal since 1936.

Diaz bucked a slow start, where she lifted 88kg to tie her at fourth after the snatch. She was ready to settle for a bronze showing after lifting 112kg on her second attempt, jumping past South Korea's Yoon Jin-Hee to lock up a podium finish.

But China's Li Yajun, who earlier reset the Olympic Record with a 101kg snatch lift, failed to make a single clearance in clean and jerk, paving the way for an unlikely but welcome second-place finish for Diaz.


Diaz entered the Tokyo Games after a string of tremendous successes -- she became the first weightlifter to win gold in the Asian Games in 2018; nabbed gold in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games; took home silvers in the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games and the 2019 Asian Championships; and won two more bronzes in the World Championships.

Diaz looked terrific from the outset. She cleared 94 and 97kg in the snatch, and while she failed to lift 99kg, she did it all while brandishing a smile on her face afterwards and permeating a sense of ease and calm.

That proved to be the case in the clean and jerk, where she went toe-to-toe with China's Liao Qiuyun, the world-record holder in the category and in total marks after setting the standard in 2019. Needing to beat Liao's 223kg in her final lift, Diaz cleared an Olympic record-setting 127kg in her third try to hike her tally to 224kg and snag the elusive gold -- the country's first-ever to end a 97-year wait.