Against the tide with Lesman Paredes: from turning down the Olympics in Río to a medal at Paris 2024 (and retirement)
Sofía González
May 23, 2024

Lesman Paredes is a name that resonates strongly in the weightlifting world. This professional weightlifter has faced and “lifted” more challenges than most people will see in a lifetime. The holder of a world record in the 96KG category and numerous medals, most of them gold, is now preparing to compete at the Paris Olympics in the 102KG category, one of the most hotly contested in the sport. Lesman, a Colombian by birth, competes for Bahrain. Today, he shares his fascinating story with the SportsIn team, one full of obstacles, lessons and joy.


“I started at the age of 12 at a sports exhibition at school, and from then on I became interested in the sport. My schoolmates started doing it and I stuck with them” he recalls. From then on, it was clear to him that no other sport moved him as much as weightlifting. “The sun, moreover, I didn’t like it very much, so weightlifting was a very comfortable sport for me.”

In 2014 he joined the Colombian Weightlifting Federation. “The first few years were very exciting. I never looked to the distant future, I just enjoyed the steps I was taking. I enjoyed the training, the lifts and that was it. I never thought about the Olympics or being the best in the world. It was like a committed hobby.

His first Senior World Championships were in 2015, in Houston, where he finished ninth at just 19 years old. That same year, he won bronze at the junior worlds. In 2016, his last year as a junior and an Olympic year, he topped himself by winning Gold at the Junior World Championships in Georgia. “That’s when everyone started to look at me and recognise me. I was in one of my best moments…. But injuries started to come and I had to take a break to recover, surgeries…. That was the first moment when I started to see how everyone was progressing and I was watching from the outside”.


The period from 2016 to 2020 was particularly difficult for Lesman due to injuries. “The injury process was exhausting. I needed a lot of patience. I’ve always been very fragile and this sport is very injurious. Maybe it’s because of my physiognomy or I don’t know, because I’m an athlete who takes care of himself. I’m always up to date, I train a lot, I stretch a lot, I don’t do crazy things in training. So that’s part of myself, of my body, which sometimes can’t withstand the loads we lift and injuries appear”.

“I have a university degree thanks to injuries”

In 2017, he underwent back surgery and recovered quickly. However, in 2018 he had to undergo hip surgery, which kept him out of competition until early 2020. During this time, he decided to study and obtain his university degree in Industrial Engineering. “Maybe if I hadn’t had that hip injury I wouldn’t have a university degree today. I have my degree thanks to the injuries I had, injuries have been my teachers”.


In 2021, Lesman achieved an impressive milestone by breaking the World Record in Snatch by lifting 187 KG (M96KG) at the World Championships in Uzbekistan. “When I lifted that weight it was so rewarding. I was prepared because I had trained for it. But when you get it, after everything I’d been through…. Surgeries, recovery, stop, start again? It feels like a coolness. Seriously, at that moment it feels like a coolness” (he laughs). Still, when you ask Lesman if that was his best moment in his sporting career, he hesitates between that record and his first bronze, in 2016, at a Junior Championships at the age of 18.


In 2022, Lesman received an unexpected call from Bahrain. “The year after I set the World Record, I was just starting to train after another hip surgery and all of a sudden I get a call to visit Bahrain. I thought it was for the champion thing, to talk to the athletes there, etc. When I spoke to my coach about going, he told me that Bahrain wanted to invite me but to sign me and start competing with them. So I was surprised and didn’t know what to do at first. The president of the Colombian Weightlifting Federation, William Peña, gave him his unconditional support. “Finally I decided to start competing with Bahrain. I said yes thinking about the future that could be achieved and the opportunities. My only condition was that my coach and physio would come with me.

The experience in Bahrain has been positive, but not without its challenges. “The only thing that affected me was being away from my family and friends. At the beginning, my coach, physio and I lived in Bahrain for four months, but later the federation gave us the opportunity to come back and compete for Bahrain from Colombia. Eshaq Ebrahim Eshaq, president of the Bahrain federation, was very flexible and understanding. I will always be very grateful to him.


Lesman is preparing intensively for the Olympic Games in Paris in the 102KG category. “I’m taking it easy now. We went to Thailand and we have recovered from last year which was very turbulent. I had two elbow surgeries and it was very hard to keep going strong. But in the end we had a very good recovery. Thailand was the first competition after the two surgeries and I was looking for the feeling again to get on the platform, to compete, the atmosphere…. And the result was very good with the same numbers as before the surgery. Now, in these three months, it’s about improving those numbers and trying to get as healthy as possible. I want to enjoy Paris.

For Paris, Lesman is looking only at the possibility of a medal. He knows his competition is going to be close, as it proved in Thailand, and from what he tells the SportsIn team, China is bringing a very strong athlete in the Men 102KG category. However, the other athletes are very close in terms of lifts.

As an anecdote, which certainly defines Lesman’s outlook on life, he tells us: “I have never seen the Olympics far away because in 2016 I already had the opportunity to go to Rio, but I had to choose in between that or the Junior World Championships”. Although it might not have been the decision most people would have made, Lesman chose the Junior World Championships. “It was the World Championships in my category, I was a junior and I had a good chance of being world champion in my category. However, at the Rio Olympics I could have finished fifth, sixth… Taking an Olympic diploma was not worth it for me. I preferred to be World Junior Champion than to go to the Olympics.” And just as he said it, he got it. The Gold Medal at the World Junior Championships went to him.


Lesman reflects on his career and injuries: “I’m scared every day. There is always the spectre behind you, the ghost of injuries. I have to be very cautious and listen to my body. When there is something strange, a more intense pain than usual, I take my time, rest, recover and take therapy. You shouldn’t go stubbornly on with pain, it’s not the time for that.

Lesman Paredes tells us that he is ready to retire after Paris 2024. “I’m going to retire after Paris, I tell everyone who asks me, and they always answer me the same thing, that I’m young, that I’m only 28… But I also tell them the same thing “I’ll lend you my body to lift” (he laughs).

“I’m going to retire after Paris, I tell everyone who asks me”.

His dream in life beyond sport is clear. “My dream is not to depend on anyone. Having been in an individual sport, I haven’t really liked to depend on other people. I would like to have a life where not many factors affect how I can live it. For example, having a job where I don’t ‘have to’ and can’t do what I want. I’m not a person who needs a lot of things or money or greedy, but I do like to have my comforts and satisfy that. Honestly, I don’t want to work, I don’t see myself working in what I’ve studied either”.

Lesman confesses that he would like to invest what he has earned from weightlifting and perhaps study sports psychology: “I think I know the things that can go through an athlete’s mind when faced with adversity”, but he does not see beyond August as he considers that everything depends on his result at the Olympic Games.


Lesman believes that sport has taught him a lot about life. “There are so many good things about being an athlete that it is very difficult to pick one. Most of all, it has influenced me a lot in the way I think and look at life. It helps you to be resilient and not give up, to always keep going. But in the end, you have to realise how long it is good to go on and be a fighter. We are not superheroes, we are human.

Despite all the challenges, Lesman carries on with determination and hope. His story is a testament to resilience and perseverance, and as he prepares for the Paris Olympics, he carries with him not only the physical strength that has taken him to the top of his sport, but also the mental and emotional fortitude he has developed throughout his career. As he says at the end of his interview, “I’m not going at the same pace as normal people but I’m ahead of a lot of athletes. So there I am, in the middle. Not that far behind and not that far ahead. At my pace, but moving forward“.

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