Oscar Figueroa, a 33-year-old Colombian who practises meditation and was recently sentenced to 16 months in prison, broke down in tears and retired after winning Olympic gold in the men’s 62kg weightlifting on Monday.
Figueroa, a silver medallist at the London 2012 Games who escaped jail when the sentence was commuted, came out on top in a head-to-head battle with Indonesia’s Eko Yuli Irawan.
He was roared on by hundreds of noisy Colombian supporters 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 with leg cramps after two failed 143kg lifts in the snatch.
Figueroa’s meditation clearly helped because while his supporters were in a frenzy and his rivals fell away, he remained a picture of calmness.
He lifted 142kg in the snatch and 176kg in the clean and jerk for a 318kg total and edged Irawan by six kilos when the Indonesian failed with a 179kg attempt in the clean and jerk.
Farkhad Kharki took bronze for Kazakhstan with a 305kg total, with Japan’s Yoichi Itokazu fourth on 302kg.
With gold assured, 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.
“It’s 22 years since I started and now is the time to retire, which is why I removed my shoes,” he told reporters.
“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 about participating in Tokyo in 2020.”
Figueroa, a father of two, said he had experienced “two extremes in my life” at the Olympics.
Having finished fifth at the 2004 Games he was in good form and confident of a medal in Beijing in 2008. But he suffered a hand injury two weeks before and failed with all three snatch attempts in China.
“I was so low in Beijing, and I am so high here,” he said.
He underwent back surgery in January then had the court case in June. He had falsely declared a vehicle stolen during a dispute with a former friend over the repayment of a loan.
His sentence was suspended and he paid a fine.
“That case was not a distraction for me,” he said. “I am not interested in bad news, I am here to celebrate.”