Team Philippines is off to a great start at the Tokyo Olympics. On July 26, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz won the country its first Olympic gold medal after claiming an Olympic record of 127kg in clean and jerk for her final lift. Earlier the same day, skateboarder Margielyn Didal finished seventh in the women’s skateboarding street finals—a memorable feat as it’s the sport’s debut in the program. So what do their campaigns mean for us, especially our women athletes?
The hashtag #AbanteBabae trended as netizens tweeted an outpour of support and congratulations. Netizens also spoke about how the wins have sociopolitical significance considering that Diaz’s win came at a time when our country needed a pick-me-up: It came shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte’s last state of the nation address in office, where his off-script ramblings came with sexist statements. It can also be recalled that she faced prior backlash from Duterte supporters who alleged that she was part of an oust-Duterte matrix in 2019.
“Ang dami kong pinagdaanan. After winning the Olympics (Rio 2016), siyempre ang hirap ma-sustain,” Diaz recounted. “…tapos nagkaroon pa ng matrix. Sobrang gulo ng buhay ko nung time na ‘yon. Then I decided I have to stop in school para makapag-training.” Like many of our top athletes, she also faced getting separated from her family for months and saw the sport as a way to get her family out of poverty.
The daughter of a carpenter and a street vendor, Didal’s main drive was also to earn money for her family. “I didn’t have my own skateboard so I had to borrow one, but then they invited me to go to skate events—just small contests—and I got some prizes and a bit of cash. I was thinking I could buy rice,” Didal said in an interview. “Skateboarding is fun [but] for me I just want to help my parents. We’re a big family. We are five siblings, and are now getting bigger.”
Apart from earning recognition for the country, the two top athletes’ performances prove that the government needs to bolster its support for our local sports industry. The creation of the National Academy of Sports is a huge step for us and we can only hope that it not only farms for but also supports budding athletes at a grassroots level.
Women are also taking over Olympic narratives this year. Black Lives Matter and mental health advocate Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony. Japan’s 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya made a historic win after nabbing the first women’s skateboarding gold. The German women’s Olympic gymnastic team decided to wear full-length unitards as a statement against the sexualization in the sport. Many women athletes, such as Paralympian Olivia Breen and swimmer Alice Dearing, spoke up about double standards and racism in the industry after being policed about what they can wear in their sports.
With Duterte’s sexist statements in his last SONA, it’s not hard to imagine how our own women athletes face misogyny despite all the praise. The sports industry continues to be male-dominated and opportunities for women are still comparably lower. Hopefully, committees and institutions will heed the calls of many women athletes this year to bridge the gap.
Diaz said it best: “I choose to challenge our sporting community and fellow Filipinos to support our Filipina athletes as they break barriers in sports and make the Filipina known worldwide.”