Hidilyn Diaz’s tears hit the floor at the same time as the barbell. Diaz won gold for the Philippines in the 55-pound category in women’s weightlifting, the country’s first gold medal in a sport at the Olympics. It’s going to be one of the most iconic scenes of this year’s Games, but it may not be the only gold medal for the island nation if Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdaganan have something to say about it.
The US women’s open champion and notorious long hitter represents the Filipino contingency in Tokyo this week. And Pagdaganan is looking forward to the opportunity. It was a goal she set for herself after the 2016 Games. And the 23-year-old appreciates the opportunity to serve at the Kasumigaseki Country Club so early in her career.
“I don’t know how much more excited I could be than VERY excited,” said Pagdaganan. “It was my goal to represent the Philippines when they reintroduced golf in 2016. I just didn’t think I’d get there so quickly, especially since I wasn’t even part of the Rolex rankings. ”
While the Olympics were always on the radar for Pagdaganan, that goal didn’t look like a possibility for Saso. In fact, she hadn’t given much thought to competing, but after winning in San Francisco and getting some other solid results on the LPGA Tour, the San Ildefonso native is in the field.
You’d think that all of the experience she gained from her big break would be a source of confidence for Saso, but she won’t rely on her previous accomplishments to guide them through her first games, she will decide instead what she can get out of the talent pool that will be around her.
“I think it will be a different experience from the majors because I never really thought or saw golf in the Olympics. I saw Rio, ”said Saso. “But I think it’s a good opportunity to meet different athletes from different countries and learn from them too.”
Always a sponge for information, Pagdaganan is also eager to connect with her Olympians. She had met some of them before. But with only 19 athletes representing the Philippines, and considering she watched the 2016 Games at home, Pagdaganan hopes to interact with as many of her contemporaries as possible.
“I met our gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz and skateboarder Margielyn Didal about two years ago,” she said. “But to be honest, the Filipino delegation isn’t that big, so I just want to meet everyone. That would be pretty cool.
“I was watching videos from the Rio Olympics, mostly from other sports. I just have a lot of respect for all these athletes who compete at the highest level. “
Now that she is one of them, Pagdaganan knows how meaningful it is to her to be in Tokyo in the first place. But after seeing Diaz’s medal and how big her win was for the Philippines, she has not escaped the impact that successful participation in the Olympics could have on her home country and golf in general.
“Aside from being the Philippines’ first ever gold medalist, her win was so iconic,” said Pagdaganan. “Hidilyn won in a sport that is often associated with male athletes. The fact that she breaks these barriers and shows that women can be successful in any sport is inspiring for the future generation of athletes not only in the Philippines but around the world as well.
“I hope your win will change people’s view of sport – anyone can do any sport they want. In addition, I hope that they will recognize the sports that are not very common and provide them with the support they need to help the future athletes in the country. “
The potential to make a difference is every athlete’s dream. And while the ultimate goal of every participant in the Olympics is to win a medal, when you can’t stand on the podium, perhaps the next best thing is to inspire others.