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Can Colombia's Best Ever Olympics Help to Heal Social Fractures?

Óscar Figueroa, medalla de oro en levantamiento de pesos. La primera medalla lograda por un hombre para Colombia. Fotografía usada con permiso de la Organización oficial de Río 2016.

Oscar Figueroa, gold medal in men's weightlifting 62kg. Photography used with the permission of the Official Organization of Rio 2016.

Colombia's story at Río 2016 was one of unprecedented accomplishments played out to a soundtrack of national joy, as athletes from the country smashed their previous top-ranking performance from the London 2012 Games.

But while the impressive eight-medal haul has given cause for much celebration — among South American countries only Brazil bettered Colombia — it has also amplified a thorny debate about race and class, since some of the republic's most successful Olympians were citizens of African heritage from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

In total, Colombia climbed 15 places compared to four years ago to reach 27th in the final medal standings, scoring three golds (weightlifting, triple jump, and BMX), two silvers (judo and boxing) and three bronzes (weightlifting, boxing, and BMX).

Citizens like Juan Mosquera unleashed an outpouring of gratitude on August 21, the day of the Rio 2016 closing ceremony:

G R A C I A S
Terminan los Juegos Olímpicos. Qué bonita olimpiada. Y digo gracias a todos los deportistas que vistieron con honor, talento, sacrificio, disciplina y orgullo los colores del país. A los medallistas, a los diplomas olímpicos, a todos los que compitieron. Gracias. Y a sus entrenadores, a los equipos técnicos, a los dirigentes que acompañan, a las empresas que creen en ellos, a las familias de cada uno que hacen tanto por ellos. Gracias doy a mi verdadera Selección Colombia.

T H A N K  Y O U
The Olympic Games are over. What a beautiful Olympiad. And I say a thank you to all of the athletes that wore the colors of our country with honor, talent, sacrifice, discipline, and pride. To the medalists, to those with Olympic diplomas, to all those that competed. Thank you. And to their coaches, to the technical teams, to the executives who accompanied them, to the businesses that believe in them, to each of their families that do so much for them. I give thanks to my faithful Team Colombia.

Collages with the medalists were widely shared. This Instagram post was shared by television anchor Mónica Fonseca, who paid tribute to all Colombian representatives in Rio 2016:

You are great! You, the ones who leave with a medal for being the best in your categories and all and each of the 147 who represented us all #Colombia

Catalina Robayo highlighted the optimism, determination, discipline, and love of sport the Colombian athletes showcased in this edition of the Olympic Games:

Con las uñas, con necesidades y carencias; Pero llenos de optimismo, determinación, disciplina y amor al deporte, nuestros deportistas nos enseñan que en la vida cuando se quiere, se puede Gracias a todos nuestros deportistas, a los que están en la foto y a los que no! Por regalarnos tanta alegría a un país que en muchas ocasiones los ha olvidado y no los trata como se merecen… Es momento que Colombia fije sus ojos de verdad verdad, en estos verdaderos constructores de país y que la platica de coldeportes se invierta en ellos y no en otros menesteres!!! Solo nos queda decirles GRACIAS por esas 8 medallas olímpicas, gracias por las alegrías, las lágrimas, las angustias también por las tristezas por los que no lograron su objetivo; todos son de aplaudir y dignos de admirar #Gracias #rio2016 #Colombia

A photo posted by Catalina Robayo (@catalinarobayo) on

Fighting tooth and nail, with needs and shortcomings; but full of optimism, determination, discipline and love of sport, our athletes teach us that in life when you want it, you can do it.

Thank you to all our athletes, those in the picture and those who are not! For giving so much happiness to a country that sometimes forgets you and hasn't treated you as you deserve… This is the moment that Colombia fixes its eyes on the true builders of the country […] All that is left for us is to say is THANK YOU for these eight Olympic medals, thank you for the happiness, the tears, the anxiety, and also for the sadness for those who did not achieve their goal; all of you are laudable and worthy of admiration.

‘Afropride. We are Colombia!’

Among the magic eight, there were athletes from some of the most vulnerable areas of the country like Urabá, Valle del Cauca and Bajo Cauca Antioqueño. One of them, Oscar Figueroa, has even been victim of forced displacement.

Moreover, two of the country's gold medalists and both silver medalists were Afro-Colombians, who make up over a 10% of the national population but face widespread discrimination and systematic marginalisation.

Marlyn Jhuliana Dinas called on Colombians to avoid ignoring the levels of racism that are still present in the country:

It is not possible for Colombia to continue being such a racist and segregated country!!! When the beautiful faces of my black people who with courage, effort, tenacity, discipline and perseverance have managed to succeed and offer so much joy and happiness to this country. This is my race, my people!!! Afropride. We are Colombia!

Twitter user Juana Suarez complained of racism in the wake of the gold won by Caterine Ibarguen, the daughter of plantation workers from the coastal town of Apartado, who has become widely recognised as the best in her sport in the years since she first earned a podium finish with silver in London.

Stop calling Ibarguen “my black woman”. Yes, she is black, but she is not yours, she has no master, slavery ended a while ago. #retrogrades

Facebook user Pirry meanwhile hailed the silver of Yuberjén Martínez, as a medal won in spite of “a racist and exclusive Colombia”:

Muy bien Yuberjén, que bonita lección para todos nosotros como afrontó el combate ente un rival visajoso y arrogante, Mientras el otro se lucía Yuberjén en lo suyo, en lo que ha venido haciendo desde que se empezó a preparar para estas justas, hablar poco y hacer mucho, lo mismo que decía de Yuri Alvear su entrenador, ella habla poco y hace mucho. Un triunfo más que nos dan estos colombianos dignos representantes de su afro descendencia tan maltratada en esta Colombia racista y excluyente, gracias muchachos,en silencio y con acciones,le enseñan mucho más a los jóvenes y niños de este país, que esos, los que gritan mucho y hacen poco. Gracias otra vez gracias. (Con el patrocinó de pañuelos " la lagrima emocionada")

A photo posted by Pirrylarotta (@pirrylarotta) on

Very good Yuberjén, what a beautiful lesson for all of us the way he faced down a boastful and arrogant opponent. While the other was showing off, Yuberjén was minding his business, focusing on what he's been doing since he started to prepare for these combats, not speaking much and doing a lot. The same was said of [judo silver medal winner] Yuri Alvear by her coach: she hardly speaks and does a lot. Yet another triumph was given to us by these worthy Colombians, representatives of the very mistreated afrodescendants in this racist and segregated Colombia. Thank you guys, for in silence and with actions you teach much more to the youth and children of this country than those who yell a lot and do little. Thank you again, thank you.

A new Colombia?

August has been a good month for Colombia. Just days after the Olympics finished, the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) concluded in Havana a deal to end a civil war that has lasted over 50 years.

Amid a surge of happiness related to that development as well as success on the podium, Internet users are in the habit of making bold suggestions they think can help take the country forward.

Jorge Mario Torres Duarte posted on Facebook that Olympic success represented an opportunity to inspire the younger generations.

Los Olímpicos prueban que en televisión el deporte tiene rating porque tiene estética, emoción, heroísmo y finales felices. Los canales deberían apostarle a reemplazar telenovelas y realities por eventos deportivos locales en directo. Así las ligas de otros deportes tendrían recursos como los tiene el futbol, y los niños aspirarían a ser deportistas y no narcos o prepagos.

The Olympics prove that on television sports have good ratings because of their aesthetics, emotions, heroism, and happy endings. Channels should bet on replacing soap operas and reality shows for live local sporting events. That way the leagues of other sports would develop resources like soccer has managed to, and kids will aspire to be athletes rather than drug dealers or escorts.

Colombia Oscura made a call on its Twitter feed to invest more on sport and less on war, a prospect that seems more likely as the country enters a new era of peace.

Stop funding wars, invest more in sports and that way we will have 10 times more gold, silver and bronze medals in #Tokyo2020.

To be sure it would take a lot of investment, hard work and luck to take Colombia beyond what it achieved at Rio but such is the mood in the country now that nothing feels impossible.

Another Pirry post on Facebook positively overflowed with the hope of a brave new era:

Ha sido el mejor año para Colombia en la historia de los Olímpicos, tal vez sea una ventana que nos permita ver un futuro en unión, comunión y paz entre todos los colombianos; un futuro mejor sin tintes políticos en el que de verdad quepamos todos. Gracias Caterine, gracias Mariana, gracias Oscar y todos los demás, gracias, mil gracias a todos.

It has been the best year for Colombia in the history of the Olympics, and maybe this can become a window that allows us to see a future of union, communion, and peace among all Colombians; a better future without political overtones in which we can all truly find our placeThank you Caterine, thank you Mariana, thank you Oscar, and all the rest, thank you, a thousand thanks to everyone.

Read more of our special coverage: Joy, Disappointment and Injustice at the Rio Olympics

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