Iranian weightlifter and twice gold-medalist Rezazadeh hangs up the bar for good
Iran's Hossein Rezazadeh stands on the podium during the awarding ceremony for the men's over 105kg weightlifting competition at Athens Olympic Games in Greece, August 25, 2004. He won the gold medal and set a new world record.
I have spoken to Iran's Hossein Rezazadeh only once, in Athens four summers ago in a cramped, steamy dressing room deep in the Nikaia Olympic Weightlifting Hall. Our 15-second conversation consisted of one question and a cordial two-sentence reply.
I've seen him compete only twice, that night and four years earlier on an Olympic stage in Sydney. Both times his stunning gold-medal victories took my breath away.
And for that reason, I was eager to cover the charismatic Rezazadeh again next month in Beijing. But last week, he suddenly withdrew from the Olympics and retired from his sport. If I'm disappointed, the country that worships him is in a state of mourning.
Struggling the past year, Rezazadeh has chosen to follow doctors' advice that he no longer subject himself to "heavy and stressful activities," an occupational hazard when you're known as the world's strongest man. Physicians fear that, at 30, he is courting a potentially catastrophic rupture of blood vessels should he continue to strain beneath bowed, quarter-ton bars.
Rezazadeh has not competed in 19 months, and last August suffered a leg injury when a car in which he was riding veered off a fog-shrouded road into a mountainside in northern Iran. Now comes word his vascular system might fail him, hardly a surprise given his vocation of the past 15 years.
"For the past five months, physicians have asked me to put aside sports," he told the news agency ISNA, comments translated and emailed to me by Ali Moayedian, editor of the Iran-portal website payvand.com.
"But my desire to win a third Olympic medal was
so strong that I wanted to fight until the last moment to participate and gain
the honour and the immortality for Iran and myself."
I will forever remember the 350-pound (159-kilogram) Rezazadeh in his Athens dressing room that August night four years ago, still crowned by his laurel victory wreath, the Koran in his left hand.
He looked like a cartoon figure come to life - fists the size of hams at the end of Popeye forearms, his happy, fatigued face as wide as it was long, the sweat-stained ribbon of his Olympic gold medal barely circling the tree-trunk that served as his neck.
The historic drama that night had drained everyone in the arena. Rezazadeh's achievement - that a man could lift what he had just pushed overhead - was unthinkable.
Finally, after nearly an hour's wait for a quote as security and drug police and team officials and hangers-on elbowed around him:
"I think I gave a good performance," he said. "I was full of strength."
He extended his hand - his swallowed mine, actually - and he was bustled out the door.
Rezazadeh's "good performance" in the +105-kg class had been, in fact, historic. He had thrust a winning total of 472.5 kg - 1,040.6 pounds - over his head in the snatch lift and the clean and jerk. That equalled the Olympic record he had set in winning his first Games gold at Sydney as the youngest superheavyweight champion ever.
Rezazadeh successfully hoisted five of the six bars that were loaded before him in Athens, including a world-record 263 kg (579.8 pounds) in the clean and jerk. The five lifts totalled 1,131 kg, or 2,493 pounds. A ton and a quarter.
He retires now holding three world records: 213 kg in the snatch lift, 263 kg in the clean and jerk and 472 kg in the total.
Rezazadeh's victory in Athens was the most memorable event I've covered in a dozen Olympics, seated in the media tribune surrounded by the entire Iranian press corps who cheered him unabashedly and held their breath with each of his efforts.
Many sobbed with joy when their hero dropped to his knees and kissed the platform after his gold-clinching lift, flag-waving fans surging from the stands toward Rezazadeh on the stage, nearly overwhelming Greek security in an emotional display of affection.
His victory in Sydney four years earlier had ended a 44-year, non-boycott Olympics stranglehold on the superheavyweight class by Soviets and Russians. But he became an icon to his people in 2002 for a loyalty to his flag, turning down lucrative, perk-swollen offers from Turkey and Greece to change passports.
Rezazadeh was married a year later, his wedding carried live on Iranian television, and today he has a 5-year-old son, Abolfazl, named in honour of the Islamic Shi'ite martyr for whose help he cried before every Olympic lift.
"I'm certain Abolfazl will be able to break my records," he said a few days ago, already making plans to take coaching courses. "I wish that he will be able to do this, and I'll do all I can so one day he can take my place."
Moayedian believes that Rezazadeh might be in Beijing as an adviser to his country's weightlifting federation, though Iranian official Afshin Riahi emails word that the retired lifter won't make the trip.
So while the odds are as long as the Mighty Rez is wide, I still hope to speak with him again, this time for longer than 15 seconds.
Citius and Altius are wonderful to
witness at any Olympics, but the magnificent Fortius that was Rezazadeh in
Athens demonstrated an important truth: for one night, at least, Hercules was
not merely a Greek myth.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008
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