Focus on FIGUEROA MOSQUERA Oscar Albeiro
By Brian Oliver at Rioceentro, Rio de Janeiro
Even Chinese journalists and American spectators shed a tear when Oscar Figueroa, a 33-year-old Colombian who practises meditation, broke down on the stage after winning the 62kg gold medal at Riocentro. He did not stop crying for five minutes.
Hundreds of noisy Colombians cheered, cried, and sang their anthem with gusto as Figueroa, a silver medallist at London 2012, triumphed in his fourth and probably last Olympic appearance.
On a night of high emotion he was roared on by those fans who cheered his every attempt, as well as the failures of his main rivals. There was an especially loud cheer when the favourite, China’s Chen Lijun, withdrew injured after two failed lifts in the snatch, suffering from leg cramps.
Figueroa’s meditation clearly helped because while his supporters were in a frenzy and his rivals’ challenges fell away, he remained a picture of calmness.
“There’s a lot of pressure because the Colombian public have very high expectations of their weightlifters and they expect great results,” he said. “So I meditate a lot and I like to be in regular contact with nature.”
Weightlifting provided Colombia with its first Olympic gold medal in any sport when Maria Urrutia won in Sydney 16 years ago.
Figueroa eventually went head to head with Indonesia’s Eko Yuli Irawan, who had finished one place behind him in London. When Irawan failed with his final attempt in the clean & jerk Figueroa had won. Irawan finished second and won a medal for the third Olympics in a row, having taken bronze in London and Beijing.
The cool Colombian returned to make one last, unsuccessful attempt to break his own clean & jerk Olympic record. Then the calmness disappeared. Figueroa fell to his knees in tears. He stayed there for a minute or so, then removed his shoes and placed them on the stage as a sign that he would now retire.
Figueroa seemed to have second thoughts as he picked up his shoes, and he kept crying as he fell into the arms of his coaches at the side of the stage and back in the warm-down area.
He confirmed as much afterwards when he said, “its 22 years since I started and now is the time to retire, which is why I removed my shoes. But I am full of emotion – it’s as though I was lifting for the whole country, and those tears were for all of Colombia. So maybe I will think again about participating in Tokyo in 2020.”
Figueroa, who has two daughters, thanked his family, his coaches and his doctors. He will finish his business studies and wants to open a sports institute in his name in Cali.
“I urge the President to complete the Sports Act and to guarantee a solid base for all athletes, and to build a training center, the Oscar Figueroa Centre, in Cali,” he said.
His mother – “my biggest supporter” – was there to watch him triumph.
Figueroa said he had experienced “two extremes in my life” at the Olympics. Having finished fifth at the 2004 Games he looked forward to Beijing in 2008 in good form. Two weeks before those Games he suffered a hand injury and he failed with all three snatch attempts.
“I was so low in Beijing, and I am so high here,” he said.
He underwent back surgery seven months ago to improve his mobility and recovered well. In June he was in court, convicted of false representation in a dispute with a former friend over a loan to buy a vehicle. He was sentenced to 16 months in prison but it was immediately commuted and he eventually paid a small fine.
“That case was not a distraction for me,” he said. “I am not interested in bad news, I am here to celebrate. My tears were tears of happiness.”