Very rarely do the best athletes ever have it easy. There always seems to be a great obstacle one must overcome before achieving true greatness. In an athlete’s case, this could be a comeback from injury, or other great life trauma that has derailed their current state of training and progress.
One of Olympic weightlifting’s best comeback stories comes from Colombian -62kg lifter Oscar Figueroa. His tail starts with his birth in Zaragoza, Antioquia, which is small municipality in the Colombian department. This Olympian competed four times, claiming fifth in 2004, taking a DNF (did not finish) in 2008 after injury, a silver in 2012, and finally a gold in 2016. He’s said to have retired, but could we be seeing a fifth appearance from him at Tokyo in 2020?
“I just like being number one.”
Figueroa’s story was recently told in a video shared on The Olympic YouTube channel in late March. If you haven’t seen it, I highly suggest sitting down and watching it full through, preferably before the gym. The video is a little long, but I promise you it’s worth it to watch through.
His story begins by taking you back to his home where it all started. There’s an interview with Figuero’s childhood coach Delmaris Delgado who runs the gym he first attended. In her interview, Delgado says, “At the time, I had no idea he was a prodigy.” She also pointed out that when Figueroa first decided to attend the gym he learned the form in ONE day.
The video then transitions into Figueroa’s 2004 performance where he realized he had a real chance to win an Olympic gold medal one day. Yet, not without adversity, which is where the video proceeds to next. They highlight and talk about the injury (shown below) that knocked this favored athletes from a possible first place medal to a DNF.
After the 2008 Olympics, Colombia and the media turned against Figueroa stating he was being rebellious due to his poor relationship with his coach. The doctors he saw said there was nothing wrong with his hand or wrist, which at the time made the case for Figueroa’s rebellious attitude stronger.
It turned out that Figueroa had suffered from a Cervical spine hernia in the 6 & 7 discs. This type of injury not properly cared for can lead to serious nerve damage and possible paralysis. The physiotherapist who accompanied Figueroa to the doctors almost came to tears when they saw the diagnosis. She turned to Figueroa and stated, “It is very serious and you can become a quadriplegic.”
The rest of the video takes you through Figueroa’s operation and journey back on the platform to eventually claim gold. Serious injuries such as Figueroa’s are a risk that every athlete must always be prepared for. Yet, it’s the small few that can bounce back and return stronger who truly thrive.
Feature image screenshot from Olympic YouTube channel.