Road to glory was never smooth for Egyptian weightlifter Mohamed Ihab, who faced a bumpy ride en route to a bronze medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
The 27-year-old caught the eyes back home after clinching the bronze medal in the men's 77kg category, a few hours after teenager Sara Samir also won bronze in the women's 69kg event:
In a phone interview from Brazil, Ihab spoke to Ahram Online about the recent achievement, his story of success, difficulties, ambitions and more.
Rio 2016 was your first Olympic Games and you managed to win a medal. How do you feel about it especially that you have already won two silver medals at the World Championships?
The Olympics are totally different from the World Championships. The World Championship takes place every year so if you fail once, you can make it up the next year. On the other hand, the Olympics are held every four years and if you waste your chance you may not be able to make it again. The competition is much tougher and the levels of competition are very high. I can't guarantee winning a medal in the coming Olympics as I will be over 30 years.
You came third after Kazakhstan’s Nijat Rahimov and China’s Lu Xiaojun, who both lifted 379kg and set new world records. How do you rate your numbers?
I lifted 165kg in snatch and that was a new personal record. However, the total was 361 kg and that was less than what I had achieved at last year's World Championship. Everybody was very cautious following the injury of the Armenian weightlifter (Andranik Karapetyan dislocated his elbow while trying to lift 195kg in clean & jerk). I wanted to win a medal so I was careful not to put an extra burden on my shoulders. I wanted to make sure that I would be able to lift the weight.
What Rahimov did is abnormal; he added a whole 12kg to his weight and broke the world record by 7 kilos. I think the matter will be clarified very soon.
You were suspended for two years just before the 2012 London Games after failing doping tests but then you bounced back, claiming the silver twice at the 2014 and 2015 World Championships.
Gold medalist Nijat Rahimov, of Kazakhstan, center, stands with silver medalist Lyu Xiaojun, of China, left, and bronze medalist Mohamed Ihab, of Egypt, right, after the men's 77kg weightlifting competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016. (AP)
I suffered a lot throughout the 2-year suspension. It was a huge blow for me as I had a long preparation for the London games and thus was hugely disappointed. But actually the suspension turned out to be a gift from God. I learnt a lot, focused on the academic aspect of the sport and finally realised that golden opportunities don't come often.
During the suspension period, I graduated from my university (Faculty of Physical Education; weightlifting section) and ended my military service, then resumed training from 2013. I was totally focused on training and joined my current military club in Ismailia.
How was your preparation for the Rio Games?
Thankfully, the governmental support was great for the past year as we had several overseas training camps in Hungary, UAE, Uzbekistan plus local ones in Alexandria and Sharm El-Sheikh before coming to Brazil. It helped me a lot to focus on improving my performances and techniques.
I believed that my chance to prove myself would be at the Rio Games. I won several medals before but no one heard about them so the Olympics were my gate to stardom. I had to make a lot of sacrifices to grab that chance and it paid off.
What are your goals and targets in the coming period?
I won’t compete again in any low-key tournaments or events. I did that before because of my urgent need of money. I will have a long term plan and will only limit my participations to important events so that I don't be exposed to my opponents.
Mohamed Ihab, of Egypt, competes during the men's 77kg weightlifting competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016. (AP)
Do you have enough support to help you improve for the upcoming events?
I prepared for the Olympics in very hard circumstances and sometimes I had to pay for my meals. I haven't received any prizes until now although I deserve them for winning recent titles. Still, the prizes are very minimal compared to the effort and time you spend in training and preparations. Sometimes they are delayed and sometimes because they want to deduct taxes from them.
Our sports regulations neither value the champions neither takes into consideration the difficulties which they go through. This should be modified to create an incentive for the coming generations.
What is your next main event?
The first important event will be the World Championship in 2017. The next editions in 2018 and 2019 will be the qualification for the 2020 Olympics. As I said I will only participate in major tournaments because now the Rio prize will financially secure me over the next few years.
In Egypt we have some promising weightlifters but what we need to do to boost our chances of competing for further medals?
We have a lot of talents and that should be at the centre of attention. Weightlifting is not treated as football for example so the whole structure must be changed to give more benefits to weightlifters and make life comfortable for them.
For example, it took me eight years to graduate because of my sports career.
What happened with Sara Samir, who clinched the bronze medal in the 69kg event at Rio, is a clear example.
She had to skip her high school exams to compete at Rio. After claiming the bronze medal, she was granted an exception to have them after she returns. If she was exempted she would have been in a better psychological form and could have achieved better results.
So finally, the more attention you give to athletes, the more champions you will get.
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