INDIANAPOLIS, AUG. 11 -- Here was Roberto Urrutia of the United States, standing proud to accept the first of his three bronze medals -- what should have been one of the best moments of his last eight years -- when the first few notes of the Cuban national anthem grabbed his heart.

Urrutia heard the anthem this afternoon at the Pan American Games and no amount of Americanization could prevent him from feeling Cuban again. "It was emotional. I feel very emotional when I hear it," he said. "But I cannot be both, Cuban and American."

Urrutia cannot be Cuban because in the summer of 1980, while preparing to compete in Mexico City, the world champion weightlifter climbed out of his hotel window on a bed sheet, jumped three stories to the ground, then scaled the fence surrounding the U.S. Embassy to ask for protection. Urrutia had defected.

Today, eight years after he left his wife and baby in Cuba to pursue a vague dream of being free, eight years after he last competed as a world-class weightlifter, Urrutia could forget about the months he spent sleeping in the back seat of a car in Miami's Little Havana -- jobless, friendless and unable to speak English.

Urrutia put on his red-white-and-blue uniform, U.S. issue, and lifted weights. In the snatch, clean-and-jerk, and overall categories of the 165-pound division, Urrutia finished third. But in each case, the gold medalist was Pablo Lara, a Cuban. And the silver medalist was Francisco Allegues, also Cuban. After the medal ceremonies, they both called Urrutia a traitor.

It would be gratifying enough for Urrutia if he could have come here, won a gold medal and gone home. That, however, is impossible. An anti-Castro organization has put his picture on pamphlets encouraging Cuban athletes here at the Pan American Games to defect. "Let me tell you, I knew nothing about that," Urrutia said today.

The Circle Theatre, where the weightlifting competition was held, was packed. Many spectators, including Cuban natives who had defected and settled in the Midwest, came to see and cheer Urrutia. Not surprisingly, Urrutia said, "I felt pressure in the warmups."

If that wasn't enough, there were pro-Castro Cuban reporters who ripped into Urrutia at an emotional, multilingual, intensely confrontational news conference later in the day.

The most intense point came when Urrutia was asked if he would encourage Cuban athletes here to defect. After some debate over whether he should answer the question, Urrutia said in English, "Let me tell you something: If anybody wants to defect, I say, 'Don't do it. Please don't do it.' It's a big thing if you do it."

In no way did Urrutia mean to imply that he doesn't appreciate his freedom. Twice in today's interview, he asked reporters to "thank the American people" and twice he vigorously said, "I feel free, free like a bird."

But Urrutia, 29, couldn't know eight years ago what he knows now. He says American tourists came to Cuba and told Cuban youngsters "things like, 'We have jeans, we have this and we have that.' Before I left, this country was painted in a different light. When I got here, there were no friends, no relatives. I was young. Not even the Cuban people {in Miami} would give me a job. And nobody told me when I got a job I would make $3 an hour, and no way you're going to live off that."

So Urrutia lived in the back of an abandoned car and kept looking for odd jobs. Working as a bouncer at a Miami disco, one night he met a woman named Laura, who became his second wife and mother of two more children. "If it wasn't for my wife . . . I would have died," he said today.

A couple of years later, he found a job as a cashier at a convenience store. His first night it was robbed and one of the strongest men in the world was left bound and gagged.

One day in 1983, Urrutia went to a church in Miami to ask for help, and found a Cuban sportsman named Rafael Guerrero who helped get him on his feet. With the help of his new friend, Urrutia applied for citizenship and eventually got a job stacking crates of frozen orange juice at supermarkets in Miami.

He had put nearly 200 pounds on his 5-foot-7 frame and weightlifting hardly mattered. Urrutia says he thought about the wife and baby he left behind. "Of course, I would like to kiss my boy," he said. "I love my children all the same . . . . I miss my family, my friends. I try to call my mother but it takes four or five days to reach them by phone . . . . It's hard to communicate to Cuba through AT&T . . . . I have received letters and pictures from Cuban weightlifters and coaches who have brought news of my family and relatives."

Figuring out just why Urrutia defected is difficult because he was clearly uncomfortable talking about it with pro-Castro Cuban journalists eyeing him from 10 feet away.

But there have been reports that Urrutia, a tireless trainer to begin with, was being pushed too far in workouts. Today, Urrutia said that he had a fever one day and didn't feel like working out, but that one of the Cuban trainers ordered him back to the work room.

From Mexico City, U.S. officials drove Urrutia to Laredo, Tex., and gave him $500 and a green card. From there, he got himself to Miami.

On the Fourth of July weekend last year, Roberto (Tony) Urrutia became a United States citizen in a mass ceremony at the Orange Bowl. A renewed relationship with weightlifting, through the U.S. federation, followed.

The amazing thing about Urrutia's performance today is that he has only been training for five months, and doing so in gas stations, in Levin's garage in Boca Raton, Fla., or in friends' basements. Leo Totten, the U.S. weightlifting coach, said it is "very realistic" that Urrutia would successfully compete in the 1988 Summer Olympics.

Urrutia, undoubtedly, would like to get on with his athletic life but it probably won't be that simple. Everywhere he looked today he saw reminders. His one-time coach, Ramon Madrigal, was sitting only a few feet away during the competition.

"It was very emotional for me," Urrutia said, "because he was a friend. He was like my father."

Urrutia's second wife and two children sat behind him at the news conference today. Once, when a questioner snapped, "Do you regret that you defected?" Urrutia smiled and said, "What can I say? I'm a real happy man to be in America. I have my family here with me."

Urrutia no longer stacks crates of frozen orange juice; he is a truck driver. Certainly, he is happy compared to five years ago. Every day he remembers "the hardships I had to go through." But Urrutia has learned to survive and lived to smile. "Even in the worst moments of my life," he said, "I still did not lose my sense of humor."