Larger than life, Hossein Rezazadeh ambles his single-file path through life with a modest title. For the past four years, he has been known as the world's strongest man.
The Hercules of Ardebil, as the Iranian is known in a nation that worships him, stands over a stainless-steel bar, whispers a prayer to a Muslim prophet renowned for a warrior's spirit, then proceeds to lift overhead amounts of weight that the average man might be able to budge with a building crane.
This month, the defending world and Olympic champion will be one of the most compelling stories at the Athens Games, the star attraction in weightlifting's superheavyweight class.
This is one of the marquee events of the Olympics, a vein-popping display of fortius that leaves citius and altius well up the track. Its athletes are among the most charismatic in the Games, their work a breathtaking success or a spectacular failure; there is no average attempt when the bar looks like something in a Popeye cartoon.
Rezazadeh's plus-105-kilogram class includes no Canadian, so you'll likely see only a televised moment or two. That's truly a shame, because there is nothing more riveting than when the bears of this sport rumble onto the platform one after another, summon the strength of the gods from the bottom of their lungs, then make a mockery of the laws of gravity - or nearly expire from the effort.
(Canada sends two lifters to Athens: Brossard's Maryse Turcotte, a three-time world-championship medallist and fourth-place finisher in Sydney, in the women's 58-kg class; and Akos Sandor of Toronto, a Hungarian-born Commonwealth Games champion, in the men's 105-kg.)
Today, Rezazadeh is the world-record holder in the snatch lift at 213 kg (470 pounds), the clean- and-jerk at 263 kg (580), and the total, at 472.5 kg (1,042).
Iran's official news agency reports that he jerked 265 kg (584) in training last month, though that's not in the books. His coach predicts he will be the first man in history to total 500 kg (1,102) in a contest; others suggest he'll spontaneously combust with the effort.
"The lifter who has eyed the Athens gold has no alternative but to raise more than 470 kg," Rezazadeh says.
The Olympic superheavies have long been magical. At Montreal in 1976, Soviet Vasili Alexeev successfully defended his 1972 Munich gold with ridiculous ease. A free spirit who trained in his rose garden, read Lenin and Jack London and enjoyed the music of Tom Jones, Alexeev jerked a world-record 255 kg, one of 80 he set during his career. He bowed before his screaming disciples in the St. Michel Arena, then held his news conference on the platform with a beer lost in his massive paw, suggesting that maybe his wife would respect him now.
"During Shakespeare's time it was said, 'What must be cannot be avoided,' " Alexeev said. "I experience the tortures and the celebrations of my sport. But I lift as well as I lift because it cannot be avoided."
Pound for pound, the smaller lifters are the stronger men, pushing twice their body weight and more overhead. But then, they're not blustering, neckless garage-hoists with big personalities and bigger bellies, their guts sometimes so enormous that these men know their feet only to be a rumour.
Rezazadeh, 26, is not even the bulkiest in his class. At 6-foot-1, he weighs 344 pounds (156 kg), before breakfast, and has ruled the plus-105s since he thundered onto the world scene with his Sydney Olympic triumph, surprising even himself to end a 44-year Soviet and Russian stranglehold on the weight class.
That night, Canadian coach Pierre Bergeron Jr. sat in the stands, awestruck by the battle that electrified 3,000 spectators who finally left the building as exhausted as the athletes.
"The greatest contest I have ever seen," Bergeron said.
Rezazadeh has been named Iran's Champion of Champions three times in the past four years. In 2002, a year before he won two gold and a bronze at the world championships in Vancouver, weightlifting superpower Turkey was reported to have offered him $10 million, luxury housing and cars and assorted bonuses to switch passports. He refused, citing love of his country and its people.
Rezazadeh's competition in Athens would disable a computer spell-check: Velichko Cholakov of Bulgaria; Viktors Scerbatihs of Latvia; Germany's Ronny Weller, a two-time Olympic silver medallist; Ukraine's Oleksiy Kolokoltsev; Evgeny Tchigishev of Russia; and Salem Saeed Jaber of Qatar.
Yet Rezazadeh is suffering from no shortage of confidence.
"My rivals in the international events have confessed that they just think of the silver medal," he sniffs.
On Aug. 25, in the country that lays proud claim to the mythological strongmen Hercules and Atlas, he aims to make Olympic history. The only one in his way might be Sir Isaac Newton, the father of gravity, and he's not yet on the entry list.
... Payvand News - 8/3/04 ... --