PANAM SPORTS LEGENDS: XIMENA RESTREPO
The winner of Colombia’s first Olympic medal in Athletics, Ximena Restrepo is still seen as one of the country’s most important athletes who helped inspire an entire generation to achieve their dreams.
While her performance in the 400 meter sprint at the Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics is one of the most recognizable moments in Colombia’s sporting history, Ximena Restrepo did not begin her athletics career as a 400 meter specialist.
Her first gold medal at an international competition came while running the 200 meters at the 1985 Bolivarian Games in Cuenca, Ecuador at just 16 years old. Restrepo’s victory in Ecuador gave her a thirst for competition and ignited the desire for a legendary 15-year career.
A few more gold and silver medals across junior athletics championships throughout the Americas showed the world she was ready for the next stage of her career, but few knew that she would make the transition from a 100 and 200 meter specialist to the 400 meter runner that is remembered as.
She competed in her first Olympics in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea where she raced the 200 meter and was part of the Colombian 4×100 meter relay team. The Seoul 1988 Olympics served as a learning experience for Ximena, as she discovered what it would take to compete against the best athletes in the world.
Three years later in 1991, Restrepo competed in her first Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba. She entered into both the 200 meter and 400 meter races at the competition, marking one of her first attempts in international competition in the 400 meters.
Her vast experience in the 200 meter in the early stages of her career led her to an impressive silver medal in the event, completing the fastest 200 meter race of her career at that time in 23.16 seconds. But she was not done yet.
Although it was one of her first attempts at the 400 meter sprint, Ximena did not disappoint in Havana, running a sweltering time of 50.14 seconds to earn the silver medal in that event as well. It seemed as the Colombian sprinter had finally found her calling.
Just one year later, Restrepo was ready to shock the world at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. With the confidence of winning two silver medals at the Pan Am Games and discovering her best event, Ximena set the track on fire with an incredible 400 meter time of 49.64 seconds, earning her the bronze medal.
The moment will be remembered in Colombia forever, and marked the country’s very first medal in Athletics at the Olympics. Her time of 49.64 still stands as a South American record 26 years later.
While she was unable to return to an Olympic or Pan American Games podium after her thrilling performance in Barcelona, Ximena Restrepo set the standard for excellence in Athletics for Colombia. She would go on to compete in two more Olympics in Atlanta and Sydney while also competing in the 1995 Pan Am Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina.
This Panam Sports Legend set the bar for all Colombian athletes to follow, and helped inspire a new generation of athletes like Caterine Ibarguen, Colombia’s only other Olympic medalist in Athletics who won silver in London 2012 and gold in Rio 2016.