Filipino weightlifter Elreen Ando: Hidilyn Diaz has her back

22-year-old Elreen Ando thought it was a prank when Hidilyn Diaz called to tell her she had qualified for the Olympics, now she's training twice as hard and hoping to raise the bar once more.

By Ken Browne

When Elreen Ando got a call from Hidilyn Diaz congratulating her for her qualification to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games she thought it was a joke.

“At first, I didn’t want to believe it,” Ando told the Philippine Star on Saturday 19 June.

The 22-year-old will compete in the -64kg women's weightlifting category after the IWF confirmed Olympic qualifying spots last week.

“Now, it’s really sunk in. I’m doubling my training. Getting into the Olympics means a lot; not everyone has gotten in.”

Based in Cebu, Ando is going hard ahead of the Games and while most watchers put her as an outside chance of making the podium, having the experienced Hidilyn Diaz in her corner is a huge positive factor for her.

“It really makes a big difference having Ate Hidi as a teammate. Her experience and advice have really helped me,” she continues to PhilStar.

Rio 2016 silver medallist Diaz has her sights set on winning the Philippines' first ever gold medal in Tokyo at her fourth Games, and has cut a path for younger weightlifters to follow.

How Elreen Ando qualified for the Olympics

The truth is, Ando didn't really think she had any chance of qualifying for Tokyo and had Paris 2024 more in mind, but with the postponement of the Olympics by a year and rankings rules that went in her favour, she's on her way to a first Games.

Sitting in 12th place in the world rankings at the Olympic qualifying cut-off point, she thought she had no chance.

Ando amassed 2,634.93 points on the IWF ranking after she had two second-place and one third-place finishes at the 2021 Asian Weightlifting Championships in Uzbekistan in April.

The top eight in the world rankings qualifying for the Olympics, but as only one representative from each country can participate per weight category, the final spot went to Ando.

The Cebuano lifter became the 11th Filipino athlete to book a golden ticket to Tokyo, and since then one more has made the grade - shooter Jayson Valdez bumping that number up to 12.

At 22, Ando represents the next generation of Filipino weightlifters following in the footsteps of Hidilyn Diaz who rewrote sporting history in her country at Rio 2016 by becoming the first woman to win an Olympic medal.

With a generation of hungry young athletes on the up in the Philippines, and particularly women emboldened by Diaz' feat five years ago, we can look forward to watching more history in the making in Tokyo.

And for Ando, she can go and enjoy the experience with very little pressure on her shoulders, surprised by her own qualification, she may be the one doing the surprising in the Japanese capital.

Filipino athletes qualified for the Olympics

As the clock ticks down to Tokyo 2020 the race win the Philippines' first ever gold medal is on, and here are the candidates:

And that may not be the definitive list with sprinter Kristina Knott getting ever closer to the Olympic mark meaning she could race in the 100 and 200m races in Tokyo.

It would be a remarkable achievement for Knott to make it considering she has been training on grass in a public park in Florida this year.

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