Cuba had a good opening on the first day of competition at the V Parapan American Games in Toronto, August 8. Weightlifter Leidy Rodriguez secured gold and swimmer Yunerki Ortega won a silver medal.
Rodriguez is unrivaled in Cuban weightlifting. With excellent form she lifted 77 kg in her third attempt on the powerlifting bench to win gold in the women’s up to 41 and 45 kg weight division. Her success was all the more impressive for having the lowest weight amongst the competitors at 40.35 kg.
Remarkably, her winning lift exceeded the winning lift in the 50 kg weight division by Brazilian Maria Rizonaide, who lifted 73 kg. Both have now qualified for the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro 2016.
“I came with a lot of confidence. When I saw my opponents in the competition it gave me more strength to go for the gold,” said Rodriguez. A native of Bayamo province, she also expressed appreciation for the support of the Cuban people in preparing for the event.
In the qualifying event in Mexico Rodriguez had only managed to lift 60 kg, partly due to issues with refereeing. But this did not phase the 31-year-old athlete, who previously practiced wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball.
Rodriguez opened with 68 kg and followed with 72 kg, placing her ahead of the runners up, Mexico’s Gabriela Laura Cerero (68 kg) and Mayra Hernandez (65 kg).
Cuba’s César Rubio, gold medallist in the 2007 and 2011 games, won silver in the men’s 49-54 kg weight division.
Yunerki Ortega Opens with a Medal
Blind swimmer and national record-holder Yunerki Ortega unexpectedly won the silver medal by scoring 2:41.82 minutes in the men’s 200m individual medley SM11. Ortega came in behind Colombia’s Brayan Urbano (2:39.98) and ahead of Leider Lemus (2:50.55), also of Colombia.
Ortega was only passed by Urbano in the last 25 metres. This came after a very good start to swimming events in which he was ahead in the 50 m butterfly with a split of 30.67 seconds. Ortega followed that with a split of 1:16.46 after the 50m backstroke and and a split of 2:00.99 after the 50m breaststroke.
“I felt good and I tried to get out in front. I wanted gold for Cuba but more competitions lie ahead,” said Ortega.