FOUR-TIME Olympian Hidilyn Diaz (left) and debuting Erleen Ann Ando are the Philippine weightlifting bets for the rescheduled Olympic Games happening from July 23 to Aug. 8. — HIDILYN DIAZ AND ERLEEN ANN ANDO FB PAGES

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

THE Olympic Games in Tokyo this year is a significant one for Philippine weightlifting as it features the now and the future of the sport in the country.

Four-time Olympian Hidilyn Diaz, 30, and debuting Erleen Ann Ando, 22, are the Philippine weightlifting bets for the rescheduled Games happening from July 23 to Aug. 8.

Zamboanga native Diaz will be competing in the women’s 55-kg category while Cebuana Ando pits her skills in the women’s 64-kg event.

The face of weightlifting here for more than a decade now, Ms. Diaz is looking to build on her silver medal-winning performance in the Rio Games in 2016.

She is going to Tokyo off an extended preparation made more challenging because of the pandemic.

“This Olympics is different from the three others for me because we are in a pandemic. [But] I think I’m more prepared this time around,” said Ms. Diaz in a Messenger chat with BusinessWorld from Malaysia where she has been training since last year.

Ms. Diaz first made it to the Olympics in 2008 in Beijing then returned in 2012 in London. She pulled off a breakthrough performance in Brazil four years later, winning the silver medal to help the Philippines avoid a medal shutout for said Summer Games.

The veteran Olympian shared that preparation for this year’s Olympics was very challenging but she and her team managed to stay the course and are now ready to see what they have long worked for through.

“We have been training in Malaysia since last year and it has not been easy. Lockdowns are implemented here and our movement is limited. When you are stressed out, you cannot go out. You miss Filipino food. There are days when you are not up for it, but you forge ahead,” she said.

“But this (weightlifting) is what I want to do and I want to inspire. So we are really working hard despite the conditions. And hopefully, it pays off in Tokyo,” she added.

Ms. Diaz went on to say that she is confident that she will have a podium finish and is going for the gold amid what she expects to be a tough competition.

“I truly believe that I will get a medal, but I’m not sure what color. Of course, the ultimate goal for every athlete in the Olympics is to win the gold. It’s a battle among the best of the best in the world but I’m going to fight,” she said.

“I’ll be doing everything I can. I don’t want to make guarantees. I’ll just perform and go for the gold. And I am asking for prayers and support.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Ando’s qualification may have come as a surprise for her but she said she is ready to compete in her first-ever Olympics, eyeing at least a top three finish.

“I’m ready for the Olympics. This is the biggest event for me so far in my career. It’s going to be tough, but I’ll try hard to enter the top three,” Ms. Ando said in Filipino in her interview with Team Pilipinas on PTV 4 on Saturday.

Ms. Ando earned Olympic entry by way of the continental ranking under the watch of the International Weightlifting Federation. Being the second-ranked weightlifter in her division, boosted by silver and bronze medal-winning finishes in the last Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Uzbekistan, Ms. Ando was awarded a spot.

Ms. Ando said she is fully aware that she is seen as an heir apparent for Ms. Diaz in the sport and feels honored by it.

“I know people are saying that I am the next Hidilyn. There is some pressure in it, but it’s an honor and I will work hard. Hopefully, I live up to the expectations,” she said.

Ms. Diaz will be the first to compete for the Philippines on July 26 followed by Ms. Ando the following day.