In weightlifting, there are two competitive lifts: the “snatch” and the “clean and jerk”. The first is a straight lift while the second has two stages, including a pause with the weights on the shoulders. In both lifts, the athlete must place themselves in squats to initiate the movement.
You only have to see the current feminine obsession with squats to understand why this young 15-year-old Dominican girl, 5’3” tall, skinny legs and underdeveloped muscles, gravitated toward this sport as a hobby. Simply repeating this movement daily with such heavy loads tones, lifts and strengthens the thighs, the legs and the buttocks, forming a nice proportion to the waist. It also defines the arms.
Yudelkis Contreras just wanted to have a nice “Caribbean body” and have something to do after school.
However, life has a sense of humor; what was simply an aesthetic concern for this young girl, in 2001 transformed into a career that would enable her to achieve Pan American gold and “reach for the stars” in the Olympics.
Yudelkis, the greatest record-holder in the history of weightlifting in the Dominican Republic, did not begin with this sport at first. Like many youngsters, she began practicing track and field in her hometown’s sport complex until a pair of wise eyes recognized her potential for the sport. She was agile and could follow instructions, something essential to her development in her future sport. Weightlifting requires more than just brute strength; but if you combine that with smart coaching and the ability to listen to your own body, then you can achieve amazing results. Fausto Gómez, a weightlifting trainer, tried to convince her to join him several times with no luck until Yudelkis saw the Amazonian bodies of the women against whom she would be competing.
It turned out that Gómez was right. While only 15-years old, she quickly realized her skills and demonstrated she was determined to be the best and excel at the highest level.
In 2003, with a 117-pound muscular body, she had the opportunity to start traveling on her path as a member of the national Olympic team where she represented the Dominican Republic in the in the 53kg division of the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo. She had a two-year work load under her belt, dedicated to training 6 hours a day under the watchful eye of William Ozuna, the current president of the Dominican Weightlifting Federation. “When she concentrates, she forgets about everything,” Ozuna explains about his pupil. “She is extremely responsible and you don’t have to tell her what to do twice. She is smart. If she is not performing a movement properly, she’ll correct it as soon as you point it out. She is humble. Athletes that are not humble won’t get very far, and if they do, sooner or later they will fall.”
This combination of factors paid off. The young wonder of women’s weightlifting won a silver medal, thanks to a lift of 80kg in the snatch and 102kg in the clean and jerk.
She continued to move forward. She won two gold medals and a silver medal in the Central American and Caribbean Games in 2006 in Cartagena de Indias. To that, she added a gold medal in the Pan American Games in Rio 2007, where she had the honor of being the country’s flag-bearer. There, she established three Pan American records by lifting 95kg. in the snatch and 112kg in the clean and jerk for a total of 207kg.
It was at this moment that Contreras felt that all her sacrifices, her absence from family gatherings, postponing outings with her friends and a strict diet, which didn’t allow her to enjoy her beloved chocolate, were efforts which had paid off. But there would be one more test left: Beijing 2008.
Yudelkis felt prepared to compete at a global level. Her success up to that point had allowed her to obtain public and private sponsorships to pay for her training in Hungary.
In Beijing in 2008, hours before her competition, she received an unusual call asking her to submit to a drug test –a request that was atypical, since athletes generally submit to these mandatory tests after competing–. This led her to change the preparation for her competition. “I had just taken a shower and was heading to my daily routine, but instead I had to drink four bottles of water in order to feel the urge to urinate,” she explains.
Thus, her body weight went up and she ended up weighing one kilo over the accepted weight for that division to compete. To lose that kilo, she had to go into the sauna room for an hour and a half, something which would affect her performance. Even though she lost the kilo, the heat from the sauna weakened her and her legs didn’t respond as usual. Despite her efforts, she finished fifth in her division.
Eight months later, Yudelkis continued feeling the repercussions of her drug test. She received a call that would be heavier than any bar or discus she might have lifted. Dominican authorities informed her that her test had come out positive for Epo Cera, a banned drug generally used by cyclists to produce more red blood cells to increase oxygenation. “I felt helpless when they told me I had come out positive,” she remembers. “I started to cry because I hadn’t used anything.”
After submitting to a second test, the sample proved her right when it came out negative. Two months after the International Olympic Committee informed Contreras of the false positive. She had been absolved and was free to continue with her sports career. However, the bronze medal winner in Beijing did test positive, and lost her medal, so Yudelkis was awarded fourth place, the best in her career.
Yudelkis did not waste any time. In the Central American and Caribbean Games in Mayaguez in 2010, she established three regional records in the 53kg division by lifting 97kg in the snatch and 117kg in the clean and jerk for a total of 214kg The gold medal was hers.
In 2011, she continued her training en route to London 2012 and won a silver medal in the Weightlifting World Championship in Paris. Early the following year, the Dominican Federation decided she would compete in the 58kg division, taking into consideration that she had a great chance for an Olympic medal. With total lifts of 220kg during training, Contreras secured her ticket to her second Olympic Games and the real possibility of giving the Dominican Republic a chance to win its first Olympic medal in this sport.
However, something was more powerful than her. That July, she failed in three attempts to lift 94kg in the snatch and cried in despair as she saw her Olympic dream of winning a medal go up in smoke.
The following three years were very difficult for her career. She had to deal with injuries in her back and her legs, including having surgery for a lumbar hernia. But in 2016, after finally recovering, she was back. Early that year, she was already ranked 14TH worldwide, with a total lift of 211kg.
The Rio Games represented a challenge for Contreras in her third Olympic Games because she was going to take part in a new weight class the -58kg. division. In Brazil, she lifted 217kg., finishing 6th in the world in her division. The gold medal went to Thailand’s Sukanya Srisurat, who lifted 240kg., the silver went to her countrywoman Pimsiri Sirikaew with 232kg. and the bronze to Hsing-Chun Kuo, also from Thailand, with 231kg.
Nevertheless, Contreras still hopes to achieve her dream of wearing an Olympic medal around her neck, so her sights are set on Tokyo 2020 to make her dream come true.
In 2016, Contreras majored in Accounting at the Universidad Nacional Pedro Henriquez Ureña (UNPHU), and she is an officer in the Dominican Army. There is no doubt, however, that somehow sports will continue to be part of her life.