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Lifter Colonia gains IWF nod, joins Diaz to Rio Olympics

MANILA, Philippines – Hidilyn Diaz won't be the lone weightlifter competing in Rio de Janeiro after teammate Nestor Colonia was given the nod by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) to take part in the 2016 Olympic Games.

Angelique Mottet, IWF operations manager, sent a letter signed by IWF president Tamas Ajan to the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Weightlifting Association on Tuesday, June 21, formally notifying them of Colonia's qualification. 

"In accordance with the IOC-IWF classification System for the Games XXXI Olympiad Rio 2016 we are pleased to inform you that your MF/NOC  has obtained the following quota as of today: Nestor Colonia in men's 56-kilogram; 1 athlete (women)," Ajan wrote in an email from the IWF headquarters in Budapest, Hungary. 

POC first vice president Joey Romasanta, the PH chef de mission to the Rio Games, said the POC received the notification around 2:30 am on Tuesday.

"Nestor Colonia's confirmation as a Rio 2016 Olympic qualifier is fitting reward for his determined effort to be with the world's best," said Romasanta. "Our jubilant congratulations to Nestor Colonia!"

Philippine Sports Commission chairman Richie Garcia also welcomed the news, saying: "I would like to congratulate him (Colonia), and I am sure that this is a dream come true for him. I wish him all the luck in the Rio Games. More power!"

The IWF letter stated that Colonia needs to undergo a medical check-up and drug testing, which are mandated by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the IWF for all Olympic qualifiers.

The POC and the PWA are also required to submit the lifter's papers to the world weightlifting body no later than July 5.

Although there was no mention of Diaz, who previously saw action back-to-back in the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Games, in the IWF notice, PWA vice president Elbert Atilano Jr said that the "women's slot (to Rio) is being allotted to her." 

Competing in the women's 53-kilogram class, Diaz garnered 3 bronze medals and finished third overall in the world weightlifting championships in Houston, Texas last November, earning her third straight Olympic stint.

Colonia, 26, a native of Zamboanga City like Diaz and also a protégé of Atilano,  captured a bronze medal and placed fourth overall at the worlds. 

Philippine Tennis Association secretary general Romy Magat said both athletes are now training in Fuzhou, China.

Magat headed the PH team that included Diaz and Colonia which saw action in the Asian championships, an Olympic qualifying event in Tashkent, Uzbekistan last April.

As the overseer of the national weightlifting team for the POC, Magat was responsible for fielding a complete national team to the Asian meet so that Colonia, who got a bronze medal in the event, could gain an Olympic slot through the IWF's classification system. 

"They (Diaz and Colonia) are supposed to stay there until July 28 but Romasanta asked them to come home earlier so that they can join the national team in activities before they go to Rio," Magat said.

Colonia is the newest Filipino qualifier to the Rio Olympics set for August 5 to 21.

He joins Filipino-American hurdler Eric Cray, marathoner Mary Joy Tabal, long jumper Marestella Torres (wild card), taekwondo jin Kirstie Elaine Alora, and boxers Rogen Ladon and Charly Suarez. 

Among the other individual Olympic aspirants are pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena, Fil-Am sprinter and 2015 Singapore Southeast Asian Games gold medalist Kayla Richardson, golfers Miguel Tabuena and Angelo Que, and swimmers Jessie Lacuna and Jasmine Alkhaldi. 

Gilas Pilipinas, the Philippine men's basketball squad, is also gunning for the lone slot at stake in the 6-nation FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament set for July 5 to 10 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Romasanta is hopeful they can gather as many Rio-bound athletes as possible to be part of the national team's send-off events, possibly highlighted by a courtesy call on President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

"We are looking at a July 16 to 19 window for these activities since the Rio registration deadline is on June 18," he said. –