Philippine Olympic team

Rio 2016: Nestor Colonia

Jane Bracher

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Rio 2016: Nestor Colonia
Filipino weightlifter Nestor Colonia will not stop at just reaching the Rio Olympics. He wants to win a medal

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MANILA, Philippines – There was a time when Nestor Colonia could not afford fruits like apples and oranges. It was too expensive, he said, as 6 children had to make do with what his father earned as a carpenter. 

That is now a long gone era in the life of this Filipino weightlifter. These days, the 24-year-old child of Zamboanga City can satiate whatever his palate desires, be it apples, oranges or any other fruit. He likes adobong bituka ng isda (fish intestines) and has not grown picky over the years. As long as the food is good, he said, he’s happy. 

He can now afford to buy what he wants, he shared. That includes a smartphone, which he uses to keep in touch with his mother, a housewife, and the rest of his family back home. 

His young sporting career has allowed him financial breathing room, and at the same time opened doors to a world beyond Southern Philippines he never thought he’d see once upon a time. He’s been to the US, China, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Korea, just to name a few. 

He’s won medals here and there, brought pride to his country and his family. He even met the President of the Republic of the Philippines. Nonetheless, Colonia is not satisfied. He can’t call himself successful, he bared. Not yet. 

But maybe, he said, an Olympic medal will do the trick. 

NO STOPPING HIM. Nestor Colonia is determined to succeed at the Rio Olympics. Photo by Rappler

The notorious ‘No Lift’ 

Let it be known that Nestor Colonia has lifted plenty of barbells since he was 8 years old, when he first got into weightlifting by the influence of his cousins and the allure of a gym close to home. 

From one red weight plate to a variety of colors now in adulthood, Colonia’s body continues to progress, withstanding more and more kilograms piled over it. Though for all of the weight he’s lifted, there certainly have been instances where he failed to get the barbell over his head.

One such notorious occasion stands out – a forgettable performance Colonia will never forget. 

The year was 2014. A year when much time, sweat, and hardwork were poured in for the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. A year when expectations for Colonia to snatch a precious metal were rife. 

The date was September 20, a Saturday. Wearing a red official weightlifting outfit and a black shirt underneath, Colonia walked to the bowl of chalk, coated his palms with it, then went straight to the competition area.

The barbell, weighing 120 kg, lay waiting for his then 56-kg frame. Colonia straightened his shoulders, took a deep breath, hesitated for a moment, then grabbed the barbell with both hands. 

The horn blew and he lifted, with all his might, as the barbell soared over his shoulder, a grunt escaping from his mouth. 

Colonia, knees partially bent, paused for a split second, teetered, then attempted to straighten his legs. For the briefest of moments, it looked like he almost had it, but his legs buckled. Colonia lost his balance, stumbled backward, and released the barbell bouncing to the ground, a resounding howl of disappointment piercing the hall. 

He then slapped the weight plate and walked straight out, knowing a red light was surely flashed by the referee, signaling he failed to complete his first attempt at the snatch lift.

On the second attempt, it was almost the same script. Except Colonia was no longer even able to stretch his legs. He held the barbell briefly over his head, knees fully bent, before it dropped behind him. 

‘Importante po sa akin kasi pinapangarap ko makapunta sa Olympics, tsaka dala ko rin yung bandera ng Pilipinas.’

– Nestor Colonia


Colonia’s head dropped, too, in frustration. His face scrunched up in anguish, knowing he had only one more chance left. He walked off with his arms on his waists, looking upward. 

Backstage, Colonia screamed to let go of the pressure. It was odd, after all, for a weightlifter of his caliber to fail at two straight attempts. This was not what he had trained hard for. He took another deep breath then walked back out. 

The third attempt went exactly like the second one, the barbell going too far back and straight to the ground behind him. Colonia used up his chances. He bellowed again, eyes closed, this time pounding both hands on the floor. 

He officially recorded a “No Lift” for that event. 

(READ: Know the basics of Olympic Weightlifting)

He removed his belt, walked out, and so he began feeling the heaviest weight in his heart. 

Colonia rued the food that did not come on time, leaving him weak and hungry for the competition. His food was supposed to come right before weigh-in. Because it didn’t, his shoulders and back were soft, he recalled, and he couldn’t control the barbell.

He had a reason for failing, but no matter how valid, there was no getting back those failed attempts.

Colonia admitted he cried for days on end afterward, filing that 2014 Asiad under his biggest career disappointment so far. It almost cost him his spot on the national team. He wondered, why did that happen? Why did all the hard work for months go to waste? 

The answers to his questions probably never truly came. One day, after much encouragement from those around him, Colonia simply moved on. Little did he know then, he would be on a bigger stage soon enough.

BRONZE MEDALIST. Nestor Colonia completes this lift in the men's 56kg weight class at the 2015 Weightlifting World Championships, where he won a bronze medal. EPA/LARRY W. SMITH

No pressure 

Two years on, the memory of his Asian Games performance remains with him, although it’s now a source of motivation and serves as a lesson learned. 

He’s on to a bigger prize now as one of 12 Filipino athletes in the 2016 Rio Olympics, all vying to end a 20-year medal drought. He prepared early for these Games together with compatriot Hidilyn Diaz. They spent time in China for a training camp.

After nabbing a bronze medal at the 2015 World Weightlifting Championships, a gold at the 2015 Asian Championship, and another bronze in the 2016 Asian edition, there undoubtely will be expectations Colonia must satisfy in Rio.  

He may be unable to control expectations, but he will never accommodate pressure. The pressure is not on him, he boldly declared, it’s on his opponents, for he is coming for them. 

Colonia, whose uncle Gregorio was a 1988 Olympian, is excited more than anything for his first Olympics stint. He is naturally nervous, but with a 3-time Olympic veteran in Diaz as a support system, he is eager to find out what the cards have in store for him. 

The Olympics never crossed his mind before this after all. All he ever wanted was to keep on lifting. And now he’s here.

No settling 

A medal in Rio could set up Colonia for a while, what with cash incentives waiting to finally be given away. That means he, as the eldest child, would be able to comfortably provide for his family, even send his siblings to college. A good, easy life would also be possible for his parents, who have worked too hard for too long. 

All of that rides on his chance, this year, at the Rio Games – if he succeeds. And so he won’t settle for the moral victory so many Filipino Olympians have grown accustomed to over two decades. 

HEAVY WEIGHTS. Nestor Colonia continues to progress, carrying heavier weights. Photo by Rappler

Colonia travelled 25 hours to get to Rio because he wants to win a medal. Falling short of that will not necessarily mean total defeat. But it wouldn’t mean he succeeded in his goal either. 

On the day of his competition, August 7, Colonia said he will eat, he will sleep, and he will eat again. He won’t miss any meals. When he steps onto that platform, he won’t think of past failures, not even the exciting future. He will think only of the task at hand. 

In Rio, the sport that tests physical strength will put Colonia’s heart on trial. He is nervous, but not afraid. He is ready, but not overconfident. And by being on that Olympic platform, he has already succeeded. But not quite. Not for Colonia.

Reaching Rio is but one rung on the ladder. For him, it’s still a long way up. There was a time Colonia had nothing, he said. Now, because of weightlifting, he has something. 

So he is not done yet. He is just getting started. –

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