El Salvador’s Yuri Rodriguez and Paulina Zamora claimed the first, and perhaps the last, Pan Am Games bodybuilding gold medals on Saturday as some of the world’s niche sports enjoyed their moment in the spotlight.
Like any multi-sports Games, athletics, swimming and gymnastics received the lion’s share of attention in Lima while the likes of artistic skating, bowling and Basque Pelota were played out in front of a handful of curious spectators.
Still, there was no less joy at winning gold medals. There can have been few athletes competing at the Games with bigger smiles than the two Salvadorian champions who, along with dozens of International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) officials, basked in the moment.
“I am making history this is the first time. My name is immortal. I’m the first Pan American bodybuilding champion,” declared an overjoyed Rodriguez.
“This is a well-deserved dream to be in the Olympics. There is not enough time to get classified for Tokyo but I am sure we will be in the next Olympic Games.”
That is the dream for most sports but the reality is that the Pan Ams is about as close as the bodybuilders are likely to get to the Olympic experience.
Bodybuilding has for years tried to muscle its way onto the Olympic roster without success and even at the Pan Am Games it may be one and done for the sport with no spot on the official programme for the 2023 Games in Santiago.
For all that bodybuilding delivered in enthusiasm and entertainment on Saturday, it certainly lacked a little in suspense and procedure.
The women competed in the fitness category while the men’s competition stuck to the classic version of the sport. There was no shortage of sequins on the Coliseo Mariscal Caceres stage and the liberal use of props, costumes and music added to a kitsch atmosphere.
The women’s fitness routines looked amateurish as bodybuilders moved out of their element to try and showcase their muscularity and symmetry by employing everything from karate and gymnastics moves to fans and baseball bats.
Zamora, who operates a sport pole dancing academy in El Salvador, said she considered herself more of a dancer than an athlete but just the same was happy to bring success to her sometimes troubled country.
“In our country there is so much suffering so much injustice,” said Zamora. “This is a way to bring joy to the whole country. I don’t believe this moment.”