The tears from Hidilyn Diaz hit the floor at the same time as the barbell. Diaz won gold for the Philippines in the 55-kilogram category of women’s weightlifting, the first-ever gold medal for the country in any sport at the Olympics. It’s set to become one of the most iconic scenes from this year’s games, but it might not be the only gold medal for the island nation if Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan have anything to say about it.
The U.S. Women’s Open champion and notoriously long hitter are representing the Filipino contingency in Tokyo this week. And Pagdanganan is looking forward to the opportunity. It was a goal she set for herself after the 2016 Games. And to have the chance to tee it up at Kasumigaseki Country Club so early on in her career is something the 23-year-old is cherishing.
“I don’t know how much more excited I could be than VERY excited,” said Pagdanganan. “I made it a goal of mine to represent the Philippines when they brought golf back in 2016. I just didn’t think I’d be able to reach it this quick especially since I wasn’t even a part of the Rolex Rankings.”
While the Olympics was always on the radar for Pagdanganan, that goal wasn’t something that looked like a possibility for Saso. In fact, she really hadn’t thought much about competing, but after winning in San Francisco and notching a few other solid finishes on the LPGA Tour, the San Ildefonso native is in the field.
You’d think all the experience gained from her major breakthrough would be a source of confidence for Saso, but she won’t be relying on her previous performances to guide her through her first games, choosing to instead glean what she can from the talent pool that will be around her.
“I think it will be a different experience compared to majors because I never really thought or watched golf in the Olympics. I watched Rio,” said Saso. “But I think it's a good chance to meet different athletes from different countries and learn from them, too.”
Pagdanganan, ever a sponge for information, is also eager to connect with her fellow Olympians. She’s had the opportunity to meet some of them before. But with only 19 athletes representing the Philippines, and considering she was watching at home during the 2016 games, Pagdanganan is hoping to interact with as many of her contemporaries as possible.
“I’ve met our gold medalist, Hidilyn Diaz, and skateboarder Margielyn Didal around two years ago,” she said. “But honestly, the Philippine delegation isn’t that huge, so I would just want to meet everyone. That would be pretty cool.
“I watched videos of the Rio Olympics, and it was mostly from other sports. I just have so much respect for all these athletes competing at the highest level.”
Now that she’s one of them, Pagdanganan knows just how momentous it is for her to even be in Tokyo. But, after watching Diaz medal and how huge her victory was for the Philippines, the impact that successfully competing in the Olympics could have on her home country and golf in general isn’t lost on her.
“Aside from her being the first gold medalist from the Philippines, her win was so iconic,” Pagdanganan said. “Hidilyn won in a sport that is commonly associated with male athletes. Her breaking these barriers and showing that women can succeed in any sport is just so inspiring for the future generation of athletes, not just in the Philippines, but around the world too.
“I hope her win changes the way people view sports - anyone can play any sport they desire. On top of that, I hope that they recognize the sports that are not very common and provide them with the support they need to help the future athletes of the country.”
The potential to affect change is every athlete’s dream. And while the ultimate goal of every competitor at the Olympics is to win a medal, if you can’t stand on the podium, inspiring others might be the next best thing.