By Herman Tiu Laurel
News of Hidilyn Diaz’s Olympic Gold medal was simultaneously broadcast in social media at the moment President Rodrigo R. Duterte was in the midst of his SONA swelling on his foreign policy of independence and cooperation with China.
A few hours later the whole nation also heard of the Filipina Olympian’s feat of the first Philippine gold in the Olympic after its 97-years quest and euphoria spread across the land. Another few hours later I read the messages of joy and jubilation in social media swamp all other issues.
But I also received lamentations of a few about some bigoted elements’ warped interpretation that Hidilyn’s gold was a case of the “Philippines beating China”.
Chinese athletic science’s role
Hours later it emerged that China’s contribution to the first Philippine gold medal was also crucial to the victory.
The biggest factor in Hidilyn Diaz’s triumph was the mentoring of her head coach Gao Kaiwen who trained and nurtured the final stretch of the Filipina athlete’s lift to the Olympic Gold.
Photos of Hidilyn Diaz celebrating coach Gao’s birthday, posing with the HD Team (what Hidilyn Diaz calls her training group) with Gao, and stories of how Gao made the final dietary and training adjustments that led to the gold circulated in social and mainstream media thereafter.
At this point it seems clear that the Duterte formula of taking the best opportunities of cooperating with China which has helped the Philippines get on track in its economic development and, crucially today to survive the Covid-19 crisis with better-than-average success with the help of the tens-of-millions of Chinese vaccine delivered promptly at the critical moments – better performance that even against Western developed countries, is the same formula that propelled Hidilyn Diaz to break her performance ceiling prior to 2018.
Social media has reported faithfully and accurately the direct contribution of Chinese coach Gao Kaiwen’s scientific approach to Hidilyn’s regimen, from simple things configuring her training quarters and facility in Malaysia where they found themselves “exiled” by Covid-19 restrictions to strategically modifying her diet of carbo-rich menus to high protein consumption to match her rigorous training.
Bigots on the loose
The earliest bigoted FB post that reached me sent by friends as well as to my Viber groups was Richard Heydarian’s which basically became the same pattern for the other bigots using the Olympic win as a chauvinist dig at China by conflating the gold with the West Philippine Sea farce that is a “UN victory” in their minds.
Of course, the better informed or undeceiving would explain that the UN has never recognized that arbitration exercise and has said so publicly by UN spokesman Stefan Dujarric, but facts don’t matter to this bigot.
Heydarian posted this message “Who said we can’t beat China?” with several laughing icons, a victory sign and a Philippine flag icon.
Well, President Duterte has just said that again in his last and final SONA, and the rest of the World knows that fact, even the anti-China bigots know that and that’s why they rely and hope (against hope) eternally on the U.S. imperialist military capabilities in the defunct Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the VFA, despite evidence that the U.S. always abandons its none-European allies (after Afghanistan U.S. pulling out of Iraq now).
Sen. Ralph Recto is another bigot who used the Olympic gold to engage in nationalist jingoism and anti-Duterte punning that just showed his shallowness, this was his comment “Congratulations… tinalo pa niya (ang) China, at walang giyera”.
Again, conflating a sports triumph with his own anti-Duterte politics taking a swipe at Duterte’s concerns about conflict with China.
The worst is local politician and Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas (SWP) Monico Puentebella who actually doused cold water on everyone’s enthusiasm saying prior to the competition that Diaz would win only silver or bronze.
Hidilyn Diaz’s words
“I’m happy for the Philippines. It’s the people behind me who made it possible. It took a lot of hard work and collaboration with the team (italics mine) because I couldn’t do it alone …”
The team Hidilyn Diaz, who triumphed just a few days ago at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, referred to that she attributed its part in her victory is the training team led by Chinese coach Gao Kaiwen who has coached multiple Chinese Olympic medalists who took over as Diaz’s trainor after retiring as Chinese Bayi weightlifting team coach.
Hidilyn had this to say about coach Gao Kaiwen, “Coach Gao is really good, and he is strict with me. He is good for athletes because not every coach can understand how an athlete thinks and moves. He is really good at teaching me the techniques. He knows the basics of weightlifting and my personality quite well. It is different when you learn new things with him …”
It’s pure athletic professionalism that led to Hidilyn Diaz bringing unprecedented honor to the flag.
Coach Gao had guided her through four years of training and weightlifting competition victories including winning the gold in the 2018 Asian Games and the bronze at the 2019 World Weightlifting Championships.
Winning the Olympic gold this time around in the world’s premier athletic event caps of an amazing teamwork for the athlete and the mentor. It is entirely possible that Hidilyn Diaz could have won gold even without Gao, but we may never know anymore.
The Olympic Spirit of Lian Qiuyun
The athlete Diaz bested this time around was Liao Qiuyun of China, four years younger, she is the world record holder in the women’s 55 kg. weightlifting class having hoisted 128 kg. in the Clean and Jerk at the 2019 Asian Weightlifting Championships and outlifted Hidilyn Diaz by 15 kgs at that event.
As a sportsperson Lian Qiuyun showed what the positive and wholesome attitude to winning and losing should be in sports, she said of Hidilyn Diaz’s win over her in the 2020 Olympics, “I really respect Diaz as an opponent because she did the best she could, in fact better than that and that is the ultimate,” Liao is quoted saying.
The Chinese weightlifting team has nothing to lament as they swept the first of the first three of the weightlifting gold, and Lian Qiuyun being the world record holder in the event will still have her future opportunities to earn more gold and maybe beat her own world record too. She also has had her share of gold medals already and maybe more to come.
Olympic medals as indicators of a country’s status.
Olympic medals are indicators of a country or society’s socio-economic-cultural conditions and status, thresholds of development and cultural sophistication. In the Philippines the indicators gauge more the cultural and personal development of individual athletes in society rather than the country as a whole because in Hidilyn’s case as among most athletes all the effort is primarily individual.
Unlike athletes let’s say of the communitarian-democratic countries like China or North Korea and other similar countries where the State sponsors and nurtures promising athletes, in the Philippines it is still individual initiative and resourcefulness.
Diaz once appealed through social media for financial assistance to pursue her training and, hence, afford Chinese coach Gao and the training team several years of physical training in Malaysia.
It is an indictment of the Philippine political system inflicted with self-serving oligarchs and politicians who step in only when a victory can be celebrated and funds flow for the public to gawk at. There is also racism, as in the case of Filipino-Chinese Wesley So forced to abandon the Philippines for lack of support to his quest for world chess triumph and who instead sought and found adoption by the U.S.A.
The lessons from the cases of Hidilyn and Wesley should instruct the nation to have more solid understanding of the role of the State in the development of society as a whole and the debilitating effects of oligarchs and self-serving politicians instead of a having a meritocratic State consolidating resources and supporting programs such as athletes’ development who presently need to beg from outside sources.