María Isabel Urrutia and her stellar weightlifting career

The origins of María Isabel Urrutia | Her weightlifting journey | The Olympic road

Weightlifter María Isabel Urrutia is a Colombian sporting legend. She stood out in the sport’s world scene and took her talent to the Olympics and a gold medal. Read on to discover more about her stellar athletic career.

The origins of María Isabel Urrutia

María Isabel Urrutia Ocoró was born in the municipality of Candelaria, in the Valle del Cauca department on March 25, 1965 into a humble family. They moved to the city of Cali when she was a child. During her school years, she showed sports abilities from a very young age. At 12, she was scouted by the department’s athletics league (Garzón, 2019).

She began training with them and went on to compete. Urrutia participated in a national junior athletics championship, where she set a national record for shot put. Likewise, she competed in a South American championship. Such a performance piqued her interest and commitment to the world of athletics, so she practiced different forms of the sport, including weightlifting (Garzón, 2019).

This was the start of one of the most recognizable and successful Colombian athletes. Before the days of top sports figures like Mariana Pajón and Sara López, there was María Isabel Urrutia.

Her weightlifting journey

By 1989, María Isabel Urrutia decided to focus entirely on weightlifting. Bulgarian trainer Gancho Karouchkov took her under his wing because of her incredible potential. Her hard work paid off –she went on to conquer 24 gold, silver, and bronze medals in weightlifting competitions around the world (Garzón, 2019), including (Martínez, 2020. Mindeporte, n.d.):

  • Three gold medals at Colombia’s National Games.
  • A silver medal at the 1989 World Weightlifting Championships
  • A gold medal at the 1990 World Weightlifting Championships.

Her career took a pivotal turn in 1999 due to a considerable knee injury. It made her reconsider the weightlifting category she participated in and move down to a lower one. Such a decision had big implications, such as radically losing weight to qualify for the new category (Garzón, 2019).

The Olympic road

With the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sidney coming up, María Isabel Urrutia spent nine months in Bulgary recovering and training in the hopes of holding a spot in the competition as the world’s third-best weightlifter in her category. However, she did not have the support of the Colombian Olympic Committee (Garzón, 2019).

In response, she asked the International Weightlifting Federation for a wild card invitation. The organization sponsored her and she participated in the competition. After a close race against Nigeria’s Ruth Ogbeifo and Taiwan’s Kuo Yi-Hang, Urrutia became the first-ever Colombian athlete to win a gold medal at the Olympics (Garzón 2019).

Furthermore, she was named the best Latin American and Iberian American athlete during the same year as well (Semana, 2021). Such recognition and achievements make her one of the most outstanding black Colombian women.

After retiring from weightlifting, Urrutia became a politician. Nowadays, she trains young weightlifting promises to follow in her footsteps. She remains a notable figure among women in Colombia.


Garzón, M. C. (2019). María Isabel Urrutia. BanRepCutural. Retrieved from

Martínez, S. (2020). María Isabel Urrutia, nuestro primer oro olímpico. El Espectador. Retrieved from

Mindeporte. (n.d.). María Isabel Urrutia y el ajuste que la convirtió en un ícono del deporte colombiano. Retrieved from

Semana. (2021). Gloria olímpica: María Isabel Urrutia recuerda la primera medalla de oro de Colombia. Retrieved from