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Hidilyn's silver worth gold to a waiting country.

We gathered around television sets and watched nonchalantly from afar while Hidilyn Diaz, the tiniest of our 13-athlete delegation competed in the women's 53 kg category of the weightlifting competition in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Little did we expect we'd be proudly occupying front row seats to history when she bagged the silver medal and broke our country's 20-year dry spell in the Summer Olympiad.

The 25-year-old Zamboangena is the first Filipino woman to bring home an Olympic medal. By her own account, she did not trust herself while seeing action in the London Games four years earlier.

Rolling forward to Rio as a decorated and tested veteran of international meets, Diaz soaked herself in her second Olympics and ended up at the podium with the world's best in her sport.

Gold wasn't hanging from her neck when she came home to a heroine's homecoming last week. But Ms. Diaz's silver might as well be gold to a waiting nation whose thirst for a medal of such hue remains unquenched, and whose last Olympic laurel, also a silver was delivered by boxer Mansueto 'Onyok' Velasco in the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Diaz's brand of guts and grit was also the brand of underdogs in Rio. It wasn't surprising that unexpected results have propelled five unknowns mostly in sports we can also excel in, to win their countries' first ever gold medals in the Summer Games.

The prospect of gold minted by training, determination and public and private support to find athletes in the grassroots came closer to home after Joseph Schooling, a 21-year-old upstart trained in Texas defeated American swimming legend Michael Phelps in the 100-meter butterfly event.

By stunning Phelps, the greatest Olympian of all time, Schooling handed Singapore its first gold. He said he was inspired to become a top-level swimmer by a meeting with Phelps in Beijing as a 13-year-old and by his 'second mom' Yolanda Pascual, a Filipino nanny who served the Schooling household for 19 years.

Schooling's kinship with his yaya is the closest PH could get to a gold medal since we started competing in the Olympics 92 years ago.

Also, 22-year-old Monica Puig's gold at the expense of world No. 2 Angelique Kerber in women's tennis gave Puerto Rico its first ever Olympic gold.

Like Diaz, Puig becomes the first female athlete to win an Olympic medal for her country, a United States commonwealth that's been allowed to take part independently in the Olympics since 1948.

Another unheralded athlete, Hoang Xuan Vinh, secured for Vietnam its first ever gold in more than 60 years. Firing with precision, the 41-year-old army colonel won the men's 10m air pistol event.

With Kosovo's eight-person contingent competing on its own in the Olympics in Brazil this year, Majlinda Kelmendi's triumph over Italian Odette Giuffrida in the 52 kg category of women's judo handed the former part of Yugoslavia its first ever gold and medal of any color.

Among the Rio underdogs, the most impressive victory was recorded by Fiji's rugby team, architect of an impressive 43-7 shellacking of world power Great Britain to deliver to the Pacific paradise its first ever medal in 60 years-a gold in the Rio sod.

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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:Aug 20, 2016
Words:626
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