Euphoric Philippines, awards welcome Olympic gold winner Hidilyn Diaz home

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Philippine Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz waves to photographers as she arrives at Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport on July 28, 2021, after returning to her home country after winning 55kg weightlifting gold at the Games Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Image credit: AFP

Manila: Awards, citations, and national holidays are going to have to wait about a week anyway.

Filipino weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who just won his country’s first Olympic gold in nearly a century at the Tokyo Games, arrived in Manila on Wednesday and was taken to a hotel for a seven-day quarantine.

“Gold at last!” Read a banner at the airport as military personnel waved Filipino flags and applauded when Diaz landed. But even its historic medal cannot eclipse coronavirus protocols in a country struggling with persistent virus outbreaks and an economic crisis.

Diaz, 30, who won gold in the women’s 55kg category on Monday in her fourth Olympic appearance, will be eligible to receive her awards once she comes out of quarantine.

Philippine officials and business tycoons have offered more than 40 million pesos ($ 800,000) in cash. Others have promised a residential condominium unit in an upscale neighborhood, a vacation home in a resort town south of Manila, a new van and free gasoline, and free lifetime commercial flights.

President Rodrigo Duterte and members of his cabinet congratulated Diaz via video.

The Philippines has the second highest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Southeast Asia. Closures and quarantines sent the economy tumbling last year into the country’s worst post-war recession.

The Philippines have competed in every edition of the Summer Olympics since 1924 _ except for a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games _ and have won three silver and seven bronze medals. Diaz won a silver medal in 2016, his country’s first appearance on an Olympic podium in 20 years.

Ahead of the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games, restrictions forced Diaz to undergo training for more than a year in Malaysia. But with his triumph, Diaz earned a place in the “pantheon of the country’s legendary athletes,” according to a quote from the Philippine Senate. She joins the ranks of a handful of Filipino sports celebrities who have gained international fame, led by boxer Manny Pacquiao, now a senator and possible presidential candidate in next year’s election.

Filipino TV stations paid tribute to Diaz, focusing on how she overcame poverty in her hometown of Zamboanga, in the south, through sport. The fifth of six children of a motorcycle taxi driver, she had to carry cans of water for blocks to her house and haul vegetables to sell in a public market, which helped her build muscles.

People saw her potential for weightlifting early on, but she was put off by others who told her the sport was only for men and they could prevent her from getting pregnant.

But she persisted and won a local weightlifting competition, which served as a springboard for the Olympics.

Military Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said on Wednesday that Diaz, who is in the air force, was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant “ for bringing pride and glory to our country. ”

Duterte, leaders of Roman Catholic churches, business executives, movie celebrities and ordinary Filipinos expressed their gratitude and congratulations. Besides the wishes of happiness, a bonanza of financial rewards awaits you. Philippine officials and business tycoons have pledged more than 40 million pesos ($ 800,000) in cash. Others have promised a residential condominium unit in an upscale neighborhood, a vacation home in a resort town south of Manila, a new van and free gasoline, and free lifetime commercial flights.

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