BOGOTA – Colombian weightlifter Oscar Figueroa, who secured the second silver medal for his country at the London Olympic Games, is one of the 5.5 million people displaced from their homes by the South American nation’s decades-old internal conflict.
The medalist in the under-62kg class was born in Zarazoga, a town in the northwestern province of Antioquia, but at age 9 he left with his mother Hermelinda Mosquera and his three siblings to settle in Cartago, in the southwestern region of Valle del Cauca.
The clashes between paramilitaries and guerrillas and the lack of economic opportunities in Antioquia were the main reasons that Oscar and his family left to seek a better future, which – in the end – he found in sports.
Figueroa tried an assortment of sports early on – soccer, basketball, swimming and even karate – but eventually settled on weightlifting, thanks to the advice of a physical education teacher who saw great possibilities in him.
From that point forward, Figueroa never stopped training, not even when he had to do his obligatory term of military service.
All that discipline and effort began to pay off in 2004 when he qualified for the first time for the Athens Olympics, where he came in fifth in the under-56kg class.
In 2006, he won the silver medal at the world competition in Santo Domingo as well as second place in the Central American and Caribbean Games.
He prepared himself carefully to compete in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, where he hoped to win a medal. However, an injury to his right wrist prevented him from having the chance to realize his dream.
After some disputes with Bulgarian trainer Gantcho Karouskov, Figueroa thought about withdrawing from the sport, but he changed his mind when he began using local trainers – especially Jaiber Manjarrez, with whom he is still working.
In 2011, Figueroa won the gold medal at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara and that was a foretaste of what would happen in London, where, after two failed lifts, on the third try he managed to heft 177 kilos and garner the silver.
With this achievement, the 29-year-old Figueroa brings Colombia’s total Olympic medal-count to 13. EFE