As Leidy Solis Arboleda psyched herself up to lift a bar loaded with 111 kilograms, and a crew of Colombian supporters seated in the stands to her right shouted encouragement to her, two words cut through the clutter.
“It’s yours!” said a spectator in a yellow soccer jersey.
Seconds later it was, as she quickly swept the weight overhead to surpass the Pan Am Games record she had established two minutes earlier. Half an hour later the clean-and-jerk record (145 kilograms) and the mark for total weight lifted (356kg) were hers too.
But the gold medal the 25-year-old earned for dominating the 69kg weight class also belonged to a Colombian squad that has cemented its status as the region’s weightlifting power.
Solis Arboleda’s gold was Colombia’s seventh in the first 10 events this week, and in 2011 Colombian lifters won four gold while leading all countries with 11 Pan Am medals. Among Pan Am countries, only Colombia has produced a weightlifting medallist at each of the last four Olympic Games.
Asked about the secret to Colombia’s weightlifting success, Solis Arboleda said there is none.
“When you have something in your heart, lots of desire and sacrifice, results will come,” she said. “Thanks to God, that’s what we demonstrated.”
Head coach Oswaldo Pinilla goes a little deeper, explaining that in the late 1998 Colombia began making investments in its weightlifting program that still pay dividends today.
For nearly two decades, he says, Colombia’s sports system has emphasized identifying talent and hiring top trainers to nurture it. While medals follow outstanding individual performances, Pinilla says each lifter’s success owes to a team that includes coaches, trainers and a government that values the sport.
“High performance comes from high-quality work,” he said. “It comes from doctors, physiotherapists, massage therapists . . . We’re still working for high achievements on the world stage.”
With three weightlifting events still to be contested, Colombian athletes now hold 18 Pan Am Games records, including eight established this week.
Tuesday’s silver medal went to Neisi Dajomes Barrera, a 17-year old Ecuadorean, while Mexico’s Aremi Fuentes claimed bronze.
Manitoba’s Marie-Josee Ares-Pilon finished sixth, while Montreal’s Kristel Ngarlem battled through an abdominal injury to finish fourth. Next June Ngarlem says she will fine-tune for the Rio Olympics with a training camp in Colombia.
“I’m going in June (2016), so maybe I’ll have something to learn from them,” said the 19-year-old Ngarlem.
In 2007 Solis Arboleda won the 63kg weight class as a 17-year-old making her Pan Am debut, but missed the 2011 Games while pregnant with her first child. Before delivering she suffered a fall in her home, injuring her hand, suffering nerve and tendon damage and precipitating a series of operations that sidelined her for months.
She says doctors advised her to stop her weightlifting career, but the mother of a four-year-old boy had other plans.
By 2013 she was back in training full time, by last season she had lifted 135kg in the clean-and-jerk, and by Tuesday she was fit enough to establish a series of personal bests.
Of the six lifts Solis Arboleda completed, five were Pan Am Games records.
“The record I set here, I’m going to try to break it,” she said.