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SEA Games 2023

Weightlifting features abundant pool of rough diamonds

Photo courtesy of Pexels

PHNOM PENH—Toni Agustin can easily spot a talent even at a young age once the veteran weightlifting coach sees one.

Philippine weightlifting owes much to Agustin, who continues to nurture teenaged lifters, along with coaches from different parts of the country, in a bold effort to produce another Olympic champion like Hidilyn Diaz.

“Our main goal is to build young lifters for the Olympics,’’ said Agustin, one of the central figures in the development of Diaz from a shy kid from Zamboanga City to an Olympic medalist.

“If we win at the youth level, these victories should be sustained in the junior and senior levels. If we can achieve that, chances are strong that we can win the Olympics,’’ added Agustin.

With Agustin’s guidance at the national level and the support of the Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas headed by Monico Puentevella and the Philippine Sports Commission, the national weightlifting squad has an abundant pool of young future diamonds.

Teenagers Angeline Colonia (women’s 45kg), Lovely Inan (49kg) and Rosalinda Tabique (55kg) landed silver medals in their respective weight categories as first-timers in these Games.

Tokyo Olympian Elreen Ando reset the records in the women’s 59kg with a golden performance while former Asian champion 19-year-old Vanessa Sarno ruled the 71kg class while breaking her own SEAG record in the snatch.

“These kids all got inspired when Hidi (Diaz) won a silver in (the 2016) Rio (De Janeiro Olympics). Suddenly, our sport became bigger with more and more people getting interested,’’ said Agustin.

Seeking a fifth straight tour of duty in the Olympics in Paris next year, Diaz elevated herself atop the pantheon of Filipino sporting greats by nailing the first-ever Olympic gold medal for the Philippines back in Tokyo 2021.

Kristel Macrohon was unable to figure prominently after placing fourth in the women’s +71kg with a total lift of 221kg behind medalists Duangaksorn Chaidee of Thailand (270kg), Indonesia’s Nurul Akmal (263kg) and Vietnam’s Si Ro Pha (246kg).

Macrohon competed in the recent Asian Weightlifting championships, an Olympic qualification meet for Paris 2024, held in Jinju, South Korea along with Ando, Sarno, Febuar and Diaz.

“After a tiring but successful IWF Olympic qualifying competition in South Korea, our kids went directly to the SEA Games. A three-day rest in weightlifting is a no-no,’’ said Puentevella.

“But knowing our country needed the medals, they forced themselves and fortunately we won at least two gold medals and four silvers. Onward to our main goal, the Paris Olympics,’’ added Puentevella.

Overall, Team Philippines netted two gold, four silver and one bronze medals at the close of weightlifting competitions on Tuesday with John Ceniza (men’s 61kg) accounting for the other silver and John Tabique securing a bronze in the men’s 89kg.

According to Agustin, the country’s young lifters never stopped training even during the pandemic and since they couldn’t go out, the SWP’s network of coaches nationwide brought the lifting equipment to their homes.

“These kids saw how Hidi became successful with all the hard work, the passion and dedication. That’s how motivated they are,’’ said Agustin.

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