AP/Mike Groll

Hidilyn Diaz is the first of her name. After 20 years, a Philippine flag has been raised during an awarding ceremony again. It’s all thanks to Diaz, who carries the pride of being the Philippines’ 20 year Olympic medal drought ender. But that’s not all of her achievements. Diaz, who is now a household name back in the country has also made history during her feat in the Rio Olympics.

Besides being the first to bag an Olympic medial since 1996, Diaz is also the first Filipino to medal in Olympic weightlifting, first Filipina to earn an Olympic medal, first non-boxer to medal for the Philippines since 1936 and the first Olympic medalist from Mindanao.

She first started weightlifting in 2002, after she saw her cousins using makeshift barbells and got curious. Other than her Olympic career, Diaz firstly competed in the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand, bringing home the bronze medal. This was followed by the 2011 SEA Games in Jakarta and 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar, both bagging silver in the 58-kilogram class. She also participated in the 2015 Asian Championships in Phuket where she was able to bring home the gold and the year that followed in Tashkent, bringing home the silver in the 53-kilogram category.

In 2008, Diaz became the first women to compete for the Olympics, as a wildcard entry, which was held in Beijing that year. The then-17-year-old Diaz competed in the 85-kilogram category (snatch) and 107-kilogram category (clean and jerk) where she broke her own personal record during the 2007 SEA Games. Despite being second last in her class, Diaz was praised given her young age and has already competed in the Olympics. In 2012 London Olympics, she was chosen as the country’s flag bearer. But, her performance resulted in a “Did not finish” in the event.

After suffering from a tough year in 2014 that includes her coach leaving the team, a break-up and an injury, her performance plummeted down. She failed to compete in the Asian Games and the World Championships. But that also proved to be her year of change.

For her 3rd Olympic this year, 25-year-old Diaz aimed for a bronze. Seeing that the Rio Olympics might be her last, Diaz wanted to end it with a bang.

Gusto ko talaga manalo. Gusto ko ito na yung last ko. Kung last ko man, gusto ko na maganda ang kalalabasan ng laro ko. Gusto ko rin magbigay ng karangalan sa Pilipinas.” (Translation: I really want to win. I want this to be my last. And if this is my last, I want a good result from my performance. I want to bring honor to the Philippines.)

And end with a bang she does.

EPA/Nick Bothma

Diaz is thankful to weightlifting not only because it allowed her to compete in the Olympics but also because it earned her a scholarship to study abroad, something that she has always wanted to continue as she had to stop schooling to pursue her weightlifting dream. Diaz has also built a gym back in her hometown, which she wishes to expand to encourage and give opportunities other aspiring weightlifters.

Following her historic Olympic win, Diaz returned home as a hero. Loved and welcomed both by her countrymen and the Philippine president, a fellow Mindanaoean.

Indeed, Hidilyn Diaz is the first of her name, Olympic medal drought ender and an inspiration to all.

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