JASIN, Malaysia – Filipina weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz grunts with the hassle of hoisting a barbell over her head in an outside makeshift fitness center ringed by banana and rambutan bushes as vans thunder previous — an unlikely coaching base for a shot at Olympic gold in Tokyo.
Diaz, 30, who took silver at Rio 2016, has been caught in Malaysia since February final yr due to the coronavirus pandemic however has remained decided to grasp her dream of turning into the first Olympic gold medal winner from the Philippines.
“I’m ready. I can’t say at what percent, but I’m there — my mind is there, my heart is there, physically it’s there,” Diaz instructed AFP throughout a break from her lengthy hours of ultimate preparation in energy-sapping warmth and humidity for her fourth, and doubtless final, Olympics.
Diaz is already assured a spot in her nation’s sporting folklore, alongside the likes of boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, as the one lady from the sprawling archipelago ever to win an Olympic medal — her shock silver in Rio breaking a 20-year medal drought for the Philippines.
Her stature grew two years later when she struck gold on the Asian Games in Indonesia and repeated the feat on the South East Asian Games on house soil in December 2019.
Diaz had then been firmly on target to take her probability at Olympic glory just some months later, however the coronavirus modified every part because the Games have been postponed by a yr.
‘Anxiety, fears, worries’
“It’s difficult to have a goal and have it extended by how many months and at the same time you know you have plans after the Olympics,” stated Diaz, who serves within the Philippines Air Force and can compete within the 55kg class in Tokyo.
The daughter of a tricycle driver in a poor village close to the port of Zamboanga on the southern island of Mindanao, Diaz has not seen her household since December 2019.
“I have to sacrifice time with my family, sacrifice time with my friends, sacrifice time with studying… my work at the Philippines Air Force.”
She initially went to coach in Malaysia in February 2020 as a result of her Chinese coach, Gao Kaiwen, thought it might be higher for her as she targeted on qualifying for Tokyo.
But inside weeks got here Covid-19 restrictions leaving Diaz to battle fitness center closures, lack of entry to weightlifting gear and the grinding uncertainty of whether or not the Games could be held in any respect.
“At first there was a lot of anxiety, fears, worries because we’re in Malaysia — we didn’t know where to stay, we didn’t know where to train,” stated Diaz.
For months Diaz and her coaches — “Team HD” — have been caught in an residence block within the capital Kuala Lumpur the place they needed to be cautious to not crack the tiled ground whereas coaching with weights.
But the tireless Diaz nonetheless managed to search out time to boost cash by online coaching periods to distribute meals packages to poor households again house who have been struggling throughout coronavirus lockdowns.
In October, Diaz and her crew relocated to a rural space within the southern coastal state of Malacca the place they’ve been dwelling in the home owned by a Malaysian weightlifting official.
She started utilizing a close-by fitness center however restrictions have been tightened once more forcing her to work out in the home’s automotive port, sweating profusely within the tropical warmth.
“Whenever there’s a lockdown our world really stops and you don’t know what to do and you’re shocked,” she stated.
“If I didn’t have Team HD, I admit I wouldn’t be here, I would have gone home to the Philippines.”
The disruption has affected Diaz, who was solely fourth on the Asian Championships in Tashkent final month, her first competitors for greater than a yr. It was sufficient to safe her Olympic berth, however far from her greatest, she admitted.
Diaz endured 10 extra days quarantine on her return, six confined to a lodge room with the ultimate 4 again on the home, utilizing an train bike, dumbbells and rubber energy bands to keep up her health and energy.
She is fiercely decided to be in the very best form for the Olympics, which open in below two months on July 23.
“The pressure is high because of course… everyone’s expecting me to win the gold medal in Tokyo,” she stated.
“I’ve embraced it. I simply inform myself to deal with the method, deal with the work forward.
“I don’t want to promise to win gold, I just want to do it.”
Training alongside a busy highway, Diaz is commonly joined by native youngsters desperate to learn to elevate weights.
“I’m happy when children join weightlifting and they get curious because that’s how I started,” stated Diaz, who started by carting five-gallon (18 litre) jugs of water for her household as a toddler.
“They say I’m not smiling,” she stated. “But I need to focus. We need to train.”
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