ALONG with the rest of the nation, we cheer the silver-medal finish of Olympic weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz and congratulate the 25-year-old airwoman from Mindanao for ending the country’s 20-year medal drought and becoming the first Filipina to win a medal in the Summer Games.
With her 200-kg finish, Diaz not only raised the bar for the country’s other athletes, but lifted the spirits of a nation, long accustomed to mediocrity and failure in the Olympic field.
Diaz’s medal for her performance in the women’s weightlifting 53-kg division was only the third silver for the country after boxers Anthony Villanueva in the 1964 Tokyo Games and Onyok Velasco in the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Certainly, Diaz’s story—she had tried and failed to win medals at two previous Olympics—is a testament to her grit, patience and determination, qualities that are worth engendering.
A cash windfall of at least P5 million from the government and other incentives from private donors—including a house and lot—await her when she comes home this week.
But she can also probably expect other offers dangled before her from companies that simply want to take advantage of her sudden fame and popularity. These offers will have nothing to do with her chosen sport, and may even cheapen her Olympic achievement by casting her in comedic roles—the path taken by one silver medalist who promptly quit boxing to become an actor.
In the afterglow of Diaz’s win, the president of the Philippine Olympic Committee credited President Rodrigo Duterte for inspiring the Filipino athletes by giving them a send-off in Malacañang, the first time this was done in recent memory, he said.
The statement reeks of fawning self preservation that should occasion some skepticism—and questions about why every four years, athletes form the smaller part of the official Philippine Olympic delegation, which seems to attract its fair share of politically connected hangers-on, and why we are so poor at training and preparing our athletes for major sporting events that we had to wait 20 years for Diaz to win a medal.
“We are not going home empty-handed,” the head of the Philippine Olympic team said, in cheering Diaz’s accomplishment. He reminded the public, however, that there are other Filipinos competing at the Rio Summer Games as well who deserve public support.
Nobody would gainsay this sentiment, but the cheers of the public at this point can do only so much. Olympic athletes such as Diaz who are serious about bringing glory to the country need support years before the actual competition.