Chasing the Elusive World Cup Gold Medal

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Razan Baker, Arab News

Published — Friday 11 May 2007

Last Update 11 May 2007 3:00 am

JEDDAH, 11 May 2007 — Saudi weightlifter Ramzi Al-Mahrous has an old score to settle, a burden he wants to unload off his chest. In the 2001 Weightlifting World Cup in Greece he lost his bid for a gold medal.

Rewind to the year 2001. Al-Mahrous trembled from the heavyweight on his shoulders. He walked holding the bar for five seconds. He fainted and lost the gold in the Weightlifting World Cup in 2001 at the 85 kg event because of two additional kilograms. But he got back on his feet again and won the bronze. Next year, Al-Mahrous, 25, will have a chance to redeem himself at the World Cup where he intends to bring home the gold and, “nothing but the gold hopefully,” he said.

But beneath his tough macho image is a softhearted fellow. A responsible family man, Al-Mahrous looks after his wife and two-year-old daughter Fatima. He loves animals too, especially homing pigeons, which he raise as a popular hobby he took after his father and uncles in his region. But the barbells are the one closest to his heart.

“It is always a new challenge. Would I be able to do it, and for how long?” is the question, he said, that preoccupies his thoughts.

“But I love it and would continue practicing it as long as I have the strength to do so.”

That is why he said besides training he took several weightlifting coaching and training courses in Syria and the Gulf countries like UAE. This is in order for him to maintain a future job, “in the thing I love doing the most.”

He is currently employed in government and because of his achievements he enjoys leeway that give him more time to train.

An encounter with his history teacher Abdulaziz Mal-Allah in 1994, in which he was made to lift his first weight of 40kg., started Al-Mahrous’ love affair with weightlifting. He joined Al-Tarraji Club. Mal-Allah was the founder of weightlifting in Al-Qatif where they live and the one who introduced the sport there. Al-Mahrous innocently dabbled in weightlifting not knowing that was the beginning of discovering a new future. Now he lifts 215 kg and even 217 kg, “Thank God with no problems,” he said with pride. In less than a year he joined the national team. A few years later he was part of the military national team too when he applied for a job there.

“It is definitely the clean & jerk and not only for me but Saudis are better in this. We snatch too, but it is way more risky thus our focus is on the clean & jerk,” Al-Mahrous said of his specialty.

He had been playing at the -85 weight category since 2000, and shifted to the -94 in 2004.

In the beginning it was a bit hard on his family to accept his interest in weightlifting. “Many thought I would become short and it would affect my health in the future or I would have kidney problems,” he said. But that turned out to be wrong. He had the suitable figure, true. But he also had the right coach who supervised his training making sure Al-Mahrous moves forward in the right direction. Now he is 5-foot-6 and weighs 94 kg.

Al-Tarraji Club has gone a long way from its shaky beginnings. It now has more than 30 athletes who have brought honor to the country.

“Tarraji is no longer the weakest club it once was. Especially in the individual competitions and with the help of national coach Kathem Al-Bahrani who lifted weightlifting and took it to another level here,” he said.

Al-Mahrous’s first laurel came when he placed third in the Kingdom Weightlifting championship in 1994. In 2000, he won six gold medals at the 85 kg event in the Arab Weightlifting Championship in Tunisia. He also placed sixth in the same weight category in the World Cup Weightlifting in Czech in 2000. He was champion at the GCC Weightlifting Championship in Riyadh at he 94 kg event for youth after he received six gold medals in 2000. One year later, he was champion of the Arab Weightlifting Championship held in Lebanon. In 2002, first place at the Arab Weightlifting Championship held in Jordan also went to Al-Mahrous, as well as the first place at the GCC Weightlifting Championship held in Kuwait.

Among his many achievements, he clinched Best Player award in Arab and GCC championships from 2000 to 2001. In 2003, he was champion at the GCC Weightlifting Championship in Qatar, succeeded in placing second at the Arab Weightlifting Championship in Syria, and placed sixth at the Weightlifting World Cup in Canada. In 2004, he was champion at Dubai Festival Weightlifting Championship at the 94 kg weight category, and at the GCC Weightlifting Championship in Dubai. He also placed third at the Arab Weightlifting Tournament in Algeria in the same year.

Thought I did not achieve what he wanted at the Athens Olympics, “I was still thrilled to participate” he said. In 2005, he was the champion at the 1st Islamic Solidarity Games held in Jeddah at the 94 kg weight class. In 2006, A-Mahrous placed fourth in the men’s 94kg at the 15th Asian Games in Doha, and placed fourth in the men’s 94kg category in the 28th Asian Weightlifting Championship held in Tai’an, China.

In weightlifting, he said, “If you’re in, you are in. No matter how bad you feel or how many broken bones you have. When it is time for a competition it is irresistible.” The number of weights lifted is frightening sometimes and tests how far their strength could handle it, he said.

Al-Mahrous laments the fact that some resort to doping as a short cut to success although the level of awareness in doping has increased over the years. Doping could be a fast and an easy way to be fit for a championship in less than 45 days. But it is a hazardous thought to consider. “It may ruin what they have been building for years, adding to that how their health could be affected despite their young ages,” he said.

The Saudi national weightlifting team are preparing for the Arab Weightlifting Championship for youth in Libya and the Weightlifting World Cup for Youth in Czech Republic.

Speaking about his valuable souvenirs Al-Mahrous said he does not keep bars or heavy metals at home, “no, not at all.” He instead enjoys decorating his home by hanging his certificates, medals and pictures to motivate him. “Especially the 2001 World Cup bronze medal, it is the dearest to my heart,” he said.

Al-Mahrous and company have put the Kingdom in the regional weightlifting map when they brought the first medals in 1996 in the Arab Weightlifting Championship. “What is left is only an Olympic medal and we would get it,” he said optimistically.

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