HANOI -- Philippine hero Hidilyn Diaz won a second straight weightlifting gold at the SEA Games on Friday, calling it a first step towards the defense of her Olympic crown at Paris 2024.
Facing off against five opponents in the women's 55 kg category, the 31-year-old Tokyo Olympic champion easily beat most of them in Hanoi as she lifted a total weight of 206 kg.
Although well short of the 224 kg she lifted in the Japanese capital last summer, the Philippines’ first and only Olympic gold medallist was happy to add another title to her growing collection.
"Even though I thought I was not that good, my performance not good, I’m happy," said Diaz, who has become a national hero and celebrity back home since Tokyo.
"I'm happy to be back again and getting ready for Paris 2024.
"This is the beginning of my journey towards Paris," she added of what would be her fifth Olympics.
A narrow silver went to Thailand's 2016 Olympic champion Sanikun Tanasan, with a total weight of 203 kg. Indonesia's Natasya Beteyob was third with a total 188 kg.
Diaz's life has been turned upside down since making history for the Philippines at last summer's pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics.
She admitted that, a bit like after winning silver at Rio 2016, she had gone through "pain".
"A lot of pain because I get so big, I get so busy, I don't have training for how many days and months and for us weightlifters we really need to train six to nine times a week, and I was not able to do it after winning the gold medal," said Diaz, after a second SEA Games gold to go with 2019.
"I’m happy to be back again. To be back and train, and you know, to be in competition again," added Diaz, who has the Olympic rings tattooed on her left bicep.
Thanking her team, family and supporters, Diaz said that another Olympic gold and success at the 2022 Asian Games -- which was recently postponed in China and could instead take place next year -- was now in her sights.
"I know I can do it together with Team HD, together with the people who believe in me," she said.