MANILA, Philippines — Vanessa Sarno is being tagged as the heir apparent to 2020 Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz after her accomplishments in weightlifting at age 18.

The weightlifting wunderkind won two golds and a silver medal in the 2021 Asian Weightlifting Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan  and set her personal best, lifting a total of 231 kilograms to place fifth in her debut in the International Weightlifting Federation World Championships last December.

Sarno, who ruled the Asian junior/youth tilt as a 15-year-old in 2019, is honored and overwhelmed being called the next weightlifting star after her four-time Olympian idol, who encouraged her to continue weightlifting when she lost motivation.

“[Being tagged as her heir apparent] is not pressuring. I’m glad and at the same time I’m overwhelmed,” Sarno told Inquirer Sports. “Ate Hidi [Diaz] is my inspiration in weightlifting because of all her achievements for the sport.

“She is also a great motivator. Before tryouts, I suddenly lost motivation. But I got a chance to talk to her. Her words really encouraged me to continue my dream,” she added.

Although Diaz, the owner of the first Philippine Olympic gold in 97 years, has made a huge impact in Sarno’s weightlifting career, she is eager to make her own mark in the sport.

“I am one hundred percent determined to make my own name in weightlifting. Like ate Hidi, I am ready to make a sacrifice for me to reach my goal, Olympics, soon,” she said.

“My goal every time I compete is to win a medal, raise the Philippine flag and sing our national anthem.”

The young weightlifter from Tagbiliran, Bohol is eager to qualify in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Part of that road is the upcoming 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam this month, where she eyes nothing else but gold in her debut.

Her coach, Nick Jaluag, believes that sky’s the limit for the teenager and a first SEA Games gold medal and first Olympic games appearance in two years are both achievable.

“Vanessa’s career will go far. She could qualify in Paris since she’s one of the contenders and she has a good record when she joined the previous world championship. She has to continue her training and stay focused,” Jaluag said in Filipino. “I hope she wins the gold medal this SEA Games. I know she can do it because she’s a fighter.”

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