Filipino sports heroes from different eras proved that respect, friendship and excellence are truly the moving traits that drive the Olympic spirit.
Sharing their sentiments and experiences during the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) webinar Olympic Day edition, Olympic weightlifting silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz experienced first hand in three Olympic outings how people with different cultures were united under one roof, without borders and teeming with respect.
“My first Olympics was in 2008 Beijing as a wildcard. It opened my mind kung gaano ka-competitive at kalaki ang Olympics,” admits Diaz during the webinar on June 29 hosted by former Olympian swimmer Akiko Thomson-Guevarra, current president of the Philippine Olympians Association.
“At the athletes village, wow, iba-ibang lahi but we developed friendship because we respect each other’s culture,” added Diaz who, after winning a silver in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Summer Games in Brazil, will go for the gold in her fourth Olympic outing.
After her first Olympic stint, Diaz vowed to return to the biggest sporting stage and qualified to the 2012 London Olympics. She was eliminated early but vowed to do it again, returning with aplomb in Brazil as Diaz continues to write her story.
Hidilyn is a cinch to qualify in her event in the 2020 Tokyo Olympiad which was reset for next year due to the onslaught of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
“Sobrang hirap sa diet, injuries, training. So why do I keep coming back? It’s because I know alam kong manalo and I know why I’m here. I love weightlifting and I love my country.”
Joining Thompson and Diaz in the POC webinar were Asian Games silver medalist in equestrian Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski and multi-awarded taekwondo jin Stephen Fernandez, who brought home a bronze medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Though she did not make it to the Olympics, Cojuangco-Jaworski’s gold-medal performance in the 2002 Asian Games became the highlight of her sporting career.
Jaworski knows that the Olympics is a congregation of the best athletes in the world. “You compete against the best pero habang magkakasama kayo, nagiging magkakaibigan kayo.”
And she could only be thankful for the experience and the road she travelled towards success.
“Hindi ka magiging successful kung hindi ka dadaan sa hirap ng training. God blessed me with an experience to become an athlete and represent the country,” said Cojuangco-Jaworski, currently the International Olympic Committee (IOC) representative to the Philippines.
“Pag iniisip ko lahat ng pinagdaanan ko sa sports, wow hindi pala sakripisyo lang, naging kayamanan ko pala ito sa buhay. I am where I am today because of sports.”
Meanwhile, Fernandez still remembers how he was amazed by the display of excellence in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where he paraded and personally witnessed the grandiose opening ceremonies, highlighted by an archer who lit the Olympic cauldron with his bow.
“I will never forget that image,” said Fernandez, who transformed that amazing experience into a bronze medal finish for Philippine taekwondo in that Olympic edition.
He recalled that in 1988 Seoul, he was not able to join the parade of athletes in the opening ceremonies due to conflict in the schedule of his event. So, in the succeding Olympics, he made sure to be there right in the opening ceremony.
“I really went after the experience. I knew I was going to retire later so I made sure to enjoy it, it’s a fairy tale.”