Secret hobby brings silver, new home for Colombian fighter

Sun Aug 14, 2016 4:42pm EDT
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By Paulo Prada

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - When he first began boxing eight years ago, Yurberjen Martínez hid it from his parents.

Now, with a silver medal hanging around his neck, the 24-year-old light-flyweight from a small Caribbean port town plans to buy a new home for them with about $60,000 in Olympic prize money awarded by the Colombian government.

"My life has changed a lot through boxing," said Martínez, a relative unknown who surprised boxing fans by reaching Sunday's final which he lost to Uzbekistan's Hasanboy Dusmatov, the first boxer from outside the Americas the Colombian has ever faced.

Already 16 before he donned a pair of gloves, Martínez at first did not tell his parents about his new hobby. He was particularly worried about informing his father, an evangelical pastor and construction worker whom he feared would see boxing as violent.

"How could that be -- that a pastor's son is out there swapping punches?" Martínez recalled thinking.

Gradually, though, he won his parents over, especially because Martínez, one of six children, by that point was also putting the family's food on the table. After his father was injured lifting a concrete block, the younger Martínez began doing construction work of his own and also fixing bicycles.

"I was in charge of the family," he said, explaining how he won them over.

Now, he has the support of the thousands of yellow-clad Colombia fans who packed the Rio arena for Sunday's bout and many more Colombians back home, who are cheering a silver that represents the Andean country's first boxing medal in 28 years.   Continued...

2016 Rio Olympics - Boxing - Victory Ceremony - Men's Light Fly (49kg) Victory Ceremony - Riocentro - Pavilion 6 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 14/08/2016. Yuberjen Martinez Rivas (COL) of Colombia poses with his silver medal during the victory ceremony. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra