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Soroya Jimènez, D.E.P.

28 March 2013

Soroya Jimènez Mendivil, the first Mexican woman to win a gold medal in the Olympics (in Women’s 58 Kg. weightlifting, at the Sydney Summer Games in 2000) died earlier today at the age of 35.

Raised in the Mexico City suburb of Satellite, the athletically inclined Soroya and her twin sister Magali were recognized as outstanding basketball players while still young girls, although were steered towards more traditional “women’s sports” — swimming and badminton — as they reached adolescence. In turning to weightlifting, Soyara had to move for a time to Bulgaria, serious training for her sport not being available in Mexico.

Her unexpected victory at the Sydney Summer Games made her an object of official pride, and genuine popularity. In November 2001, I was living in a hotel on calle Cinco de Mayo, with a window facing the sorayastreet, and had a better view of the Revolution Day parade than probably even the President of the Republic, that having been Vicente Fox. One thing I always appreciated about Fox was that he tried to de-empahsize militarism. With some success, he turned military displays like the Revolution Day parade into celebrations of more peaceful national activities… like sports. Soyara was genuinely and enthusiastically embraced by the crowd, and was indeed a popular, not a manufactured heroine.

While ironically, serious health problems prevented her from commercializing on her achievement(like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the United States) or becoming a public figure, her unexpected accomplishment at Sydney destroyed the idea that it was unfeminine or freakish for girls and women to go to the gym… something even Mexican men began doing in greater numbers thanks to the sickly suburban girl’s unlikely victory in an unlikely sport.

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