Although her renown stretches beyond the continent, Cuban judoka Driulis Gonzalez has a special relationship with the Pan American Games.
Gonzalez held an unbroken winning streak from Mar del Plata 1995 to Rio de Janeiro 2007, and her status as Judo’s leading woman, with four titles remains untouched to date.
Whenever she went, she was there to win. Driulis Gonzalez arrived at the 1995 Pan American games in Argentina with a 1993 World Championship medal under her belt, and one year later in 1996 she surpassed it with an Atlanta Olympics gold in the 56 kg category.
1995 was one of her peak years, winning all her fights by Ippon (the highest score a fighter can achieve) and being honoured as the best in the world by the International Judo Federation.
In Winnipeg 1999 she changed to the 57 kg division, but was still the favorite, and confirmed predictions with a final triumph over Puerto Rico’s Roxana Garcia.
With another weight change, this time to 63 kg, and having become a mother, Gonzalez also attended Santo Domingo 2003 and ended Brazilian Vania Y. Ishii’s reign.
The Santo Domingo match was the most intense battle of its kind, even more than when she faced off against another Brazilian, Danielli Barbosa, whom she beat for the gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2007.
As flag bearer of the Cuban delegation in the iconic city, Driulis concluded her successful relationship with Judo’s tatami mat at the Pan American Games. It was the last time audiences saw her in action in an era of great women.
Audiences still miss her phenomenal holds, often compared with those of the men’s division, as well as her spectacular leg techniques and effective throws.
Able to inflict serious hurt, courageous and brave, for many Driulis Gonzalez is immortalized in her consistency and fidelity, in her trail of success and above all by the example she set in the more than 20 years among the elite of world judo.