Until the Asian Games in Indonesia, Hidilyn Diaz had very little in common with the country’s golf aces Yuka Saso, Bianca Pagdanganan and LK Go, and skateboarder Margielyn Didal.
Diaz loves cheesecake. But she starves herself of it when training for a competition in her sport, weightlifting. Saso, Pagdanganan and Go never crossed paths until they crossed fairways and began excelling in a sport typically played in pricey golf clubs with exclusive memberships.
Margielyn Didal has a relatively cheaper sport. All she needed was to rent a skateboard, find a public space with makeshift ramps and stairways and practice there until she and her buddies got chased away by cops. (“Hinahabol kami ng pulis, mga security pag may nakitang nag-skate,” she recalled.)
But hard work, determination and fate have thrown these women together for a shared destiny: They won four gold medals for the Philippines in the Asian Games in Indonesia—the only golds so far for the country (as of this writing). Diaz won the top prize in weightlifting. Saso, Pagdanganan and Go contributed a golf team gold, with Saso adding the icing by bagging an individual crown. In skateboard’s inaugural appearance in the Asiad, meanwhile, Didal emerged on top.
Diaz got into weightlifting because she saw a sibling compete in the sport. Had she been elsewhere during that tournament, she might not have even picked up a barbell at all.
For Saso, Pagdanganan and Go, a crucial election in the country’s national golf federation weeded out politicking in the selection process of national athletes and resulted in the three women getting cobbled together to represent the country.
And Didal? Her parents scored her at first for her interest in skateboarding. “Focus on your schooling. There are no grades in that sport,” father Lito would admonish her. Who knows where she would be had she taken the repeated scolding to heart?
Sports officials, beleaguered by years of failure under a highly politicized previous administration, can thank an ideal confluence of events for these Filipino women getting to ascend the podium and hearing the Philippine national anthem played to celebrate their wins. But, if these officials know what they’re doing, they should be able to take a cue from the women’s victories and begin to think of how best to position the Philippines in future sports meets.
The athletes themselves weren’t as subtle about what needs to be done next.
After tearing up during the medal ceremony, Diaz acknowledged that the gold meant more than just the P6 million (at least, so far) bounty attached to it. It was a validation of her belief that the Philippines can finally win the gold it covets the most. “It can be done,” she told journalists who covered her in Indonesia. “An Olympic gold can be won.” She now hopes to, well, lift the country’s national pride in Tokyo, site of the 2020 Olympics.
Didal said that part of the money she won will be spent funding her participation in tournaments that will earn her “qualifying points to go to the (2020 Tokyo) Olympics.” Also, she has a message for the Filipino public: “Sa skate scene sa Pinas—manibago naman yung tingin ng ibang tao sa skateboarding (I hope people’s views about skateboarding change).”
Meanwhile, the golf champs are off to their regular training grounds. They may not be able to compete as a team in 2020 (golf will only feature individual competition in the next Summer Games), but one of them could have a shot in Olympics, where the country has still to strike gold.
That the country’s wonder women were the only gold winners in the Asiad—and in disciplines that are traditionally male-centric—is perhaps the best clue to how sports officials should pursue the end to the Philippines’ Olympic drought: Start with these golden women. Offer them every bit of support as they shoot for glory in Tokyo.
After the euphoria of her victory subsided, Diaz chided sports officials who, she said, put a lot of demands and ask national artists to give their all for flag and country, then suddenly go invisible when athletes ask for help in their training needs.
Those officials have to listen now: The Filipino champs’ triumphs were in disciplines that are included in the Tokyo Olympics calendar. That’s as clear a vision as any about where to start in the quest to win the Philippines its first Olympic gold.
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