More than the bronze, Elreen Ando wins confidence back in Paris quest

Elreen Ann Ando becomes Team Philippines’ saving grace in the weightlifting competition of the 19th Asian Games and leaves disappointments in the last big meet behind. –AP

HANGZHOU, CHINA—Sidetracked by a demoralizing meltdown in the continental championships a few months back, Elreen Ann Ando has just rediscovered her confidence—and the road back to the Paris Olympics.

The Tokyo Olympian from Cebu regained her bearings with a bronze medal effort in the 19th Asian Games , a timely confidence boost entering the final stretch of qualification for the quadrennial world showcase in the glitzy fashion capital.

“This will help me a lot in my qualifying bid to Paris. I somehow regained my confidence,’’ said Ando in Filipino after claiming the eighth bronze medal for Team Philippines in the women’s 64-kilogram category

.Resuming her Olympic shot would mean going through a gauntlet of Paris aspirants in the 59 kg division, including her toughest rival yet—and sentimental favorite—in Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz-Naranjo.

Both Ando’s and the regular weight class of Diaz-Naranjo were scrubbed off the 2024 Olympic program, forcing them to meet at the crossroads of the same category.

Diaz-Naranjo came from the 55-kg class where she rewarded the country its first Olympic gold in Japan, while the 24-year-old Ando slid from her old 64-kg division.

“I want to be in Paris. I’ll train harder, hoping to earn that spot,’’ said Ando.

That is the word, as only one between Diaz-Naranjo and Ando can get that call-up from the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), the world body of the sport that facilitates the qualification phase and the tournament proper in the Olympics.

They must complete five required IWF-sanctioned qualification meets and stay within the top 10 before the window closes a month leading to the Summer Games.

Frustration in Korea

While Diaz-Naranjo has already put three tournaments in the bag, Ando secured one in the 2023 World Weightlifting Championships in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, last month where she finished eighth behind Diaz-Naranjo, who was seventh.

Ando’s frustration took shape when she failed to lift in the clean and jerk during the Asian championships in Jinji, South Korea, in May.

“I was really depressed back then, so I restarted again in Saudi (world championships),’’ said the 59-kg gold medalist of this year’s Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia.

Although the Asian Games is no Olympic qualifier, her bronze here has its fringe benefits, one that Ando vows to spend as a gift for the entire family on her birthday next month.

She will then swing back to the gym right away for World Cup events in Qatar in December and another one in Thailand in February while eyeing another continental qualifier later on.

“I have to build strength going into these tournaments. I think I’m capable of doing it,’’ said Ando.

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Another concern is the tenacious lineup in the Olympics with favorites Luo Shifang of China, Chinese Taipei’s Hsing-Chun Kuo and North Korea’s Kim Ilgyong bannering their category.

She’ll have to get that Olympics spot first and deal with all of them there.

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