Bars raised and records fall at Paralympic Powerlifting World Championships
For the UAE’s heavyweight hope, there were tears and, ultimately, a broad smile.
Mohammed Khamis Khalaf, the 2004 Paralympic gold-medal winner in Athens, failed to get a podium finish but left with the cheers of the crowd fresh in his memory.
The 88-kilogram weight category of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Powerlifting World Championships in Dubai would go down to the last lift – and a world record. There already had been a few of those in the first four days of competition.
Nazmiye Muslu of Turkey made history on day 1 by becoming the first woman to break the 100kg barrier in the 41kg weight category, with a winning lift of 103kg.
On Sunday, Egypt’s double Paralympic champion, Sherif Othman, broke his own world record four times on the way to winning gold in the men’s 54kg.
On Tuesday, Othman’s female compatriot, Fatma Omar, overcame the London 2012 Paralympic champion Amilia Perez of Mexico in the women’s 61kg.
The tournament attracted more than 400 lifters from 61 countries. All lifts were bench presses, which are made from a recumbent position.
“I’ve been to so many tournaments, the Olympics, World Championships, including the first one in Dubai,” said Thomas Mersdorf, Germany’s team manager and coach. “This is one of the best. The organisation is very, very good. From the opening ceremony, the food, the hotels, all excellent ... The athletes are happy to be here.”
The heavyweight final started quietly, the main hall at the Dubai Club for the Disabled was half full for the morning sessions that saw competitors from Groups D and C, who are lower ranked.
Starting attempts were at 100kg, several of which where successful. Steadily, the bar was raised.
The German Mario Hochberg broke 170kg. Turkey’s Mehmet Dogan tipped 175. Hideki Odo of Japan responded with 188kg, and then 196kg.
As the morning progressed, Group D gave way to Group C and then B, as the weights continued to rise. By midday the crowd had swelled to several hundred in anticipation of Khalaf and the A-listers. Volunteers passed out UAE flags to a packed hall, and fans and athletes from all nations generously joined in the spirit of the event.
When Khalaf’s moment came, the audience roared its encouragement.
“God be with you,” came one shout. Khalaf did not disappoint: 218kg and a lead after the first round.
But he was soon passed, Jordan’s Mutaz Al Juneidi lifting a hugely impressive 225kg; others inched towards what looked to be a winning benchmark.
Sadly, for Khalaf, two further attempts at 222kg and, to massive cheers, 223kg, both produced “no lift”. There was one last disappointed wave, before the visibly emotional Emirati left the stage to appreciative applause.
“The standard was so high, there were many new champions here today,” said Khalaf, who is 45 and lost the use of his legs when he contracted polio as a child. “Hopefully in the future I can perform better, especially as this was a new weight category for me.”
Sitting with his family and friends, he admitted he was taken aback by the volume of support from the crowd.
“To be honest, it’s what made me more nervous, more tense,” he said, before breaking into a hearty laugh. “That’s probably why I didn’t succeed with my last two tries. I’m used to taking part outside, and my performances away from home tend to be better because there is less pressure.”
There was more drama to come. In the penultimate lift, Iran’s Seyedhamed Solhipourounji lifted 225kg, to unconfined joy.
It came down to one last lift from Al Juneidi. With chants of “Jordan, Jordan” echoing around the hall, he lowered the bar to his chest and with one mighty heave lifted 229kg. The judges indicated a successful effort and Al Juneidi celebrated.
It had taken another world record to win this category. Solhipourounji and Jose de Jesus Castillo won silver and bronze.
“The standard here was higher than in London, I’d say,” Khalaf said. “Some of the champions here were different, better than the ones who took part there.
“The organisation was 100 per cent spot on and so was the care taken to look after the athletes.”
Mersdorf echoed those sentiments. “The 2012 Paralympics were great, but you can compare these facilities here to London, even though that one was bigger, of course. In my opinion if Dubai, or the UAE, wanted to hold an Olympics they could do it.”
He may have been left disappointed by the result but Khalaf left on a positive note.
“The future of the sport [in the UAE] looks good,” he said. “Hopefully, one day we can hold the Olympics even.”
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