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Sunday, 26 May 2019

INTERVIEW: Egypt's most decorated weightlifter Ihab enjoys golden year

Ghada Abdel-Kader, Monday 31 Dec 2018
Mohamed Ihab
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A hugely successful year for Mohamed Ihab saw him further enhance his status as Egypt's most decorated weightlifter of all time.

The 29-year-old capped a memorable year by winning six gold medals in snatch, clean and jerk and total in the men's 81kg category at both the 5th senior international Weightlifting championships and the Arab Weightlifting Championship in Cairo in December.

The highlight of the year was one month earlier though when he won three gold, bronze and silver medals at the World Weightlifting Championships in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

Ihab also finished second in the overall medals table.

"I set a new world record by lifting 173kg in snatch," he said in an interview with Ahram Online. The 81kg weight contest was held for the first time at the World Championship.

Ihab also won two gold medals in the 77kg weight class with 162kg in snatch and 190kg in clean and jerk at the Mediterranean Games in Tarragona, Spain last July.

He was delighted to receive the Mohammed Rashid Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Creative Sports Award in the "Best Arab Athlete category" for 2018.

"I was so happy. It means a lot to me. I will receive my award in an official ceremony on 9 January in Dubai," he said.

He scooped the prize after becoming the first Arab weightlifter to win three gold medals at a senior World Championship.

He was also ranked number one in the official IWF world rankings for two consecutive years (2017 and 2018) in the 77kg category.

Route to 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Ihab said he is now fully focused on qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo as he seeks to replicate his 2016 success when he won bronze at the Rio de Janeiro edition.

"There are six tournaments that qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo," Ihab said. 

The first qualifying championship was the World Weightlifting championships in Ashgabat in November.

Ihab won three gold medals at the 5th senior international Solidarity Weightlifting championships, which is also a qualifying event for the Olympics, in Cairo in December.

"I will still participate in four championships in 2019 to qualify for the Olympics," he added.

The four championships are the African Championship in Cairo from 23-30 April, the African Games in Morocco from 23 August-3 September, the IWF Senior World championships in Pattaya, Thailand from 18-27 September and the African Senior Weightlifting Championships in Mauritius in April 2020.

Ihab said he will hold several training camps abroad in the coming period.

"I will continue to compete in the 81kg weight class till the 2020 Olympics," he added.  

Sponsorship problem

Ihab encountered a funding problem as he initially struggled to find any sponsors for his Olympic Games preparations.

He said the money that is allocated for the weightlifting federation from the Egyptian sports ministry was not enough to cover the team's expenses of training abroad, forcing many athletes to hold training camps in Egypt instead.

However, after calling on businessmen or companies to support him via a Twitter message, Ihab said the problem was solved.

"Thanks God the problem was solved within 24 hours. I signed sponsorship agreements with three Egyptian companies in field of steel manufacturing, construction and real estate," he said.

"The sponsors will bear the costs of my personal needs -- uniforms, player kits, equipment, nutrition (vitamins and supplements) and fitness.

"I needed financial help to be able to continue and prepare myself properly for the Olympic Games."

How Ihab became a professional weightlifter?

Ihab started practicing weightlifting when he was only eight years in Fayoum, south of Cairo. He joined the national weightlifting team in 2007.

When he was 15 years, he competed in the 56kg weight category.

"I broke the Egyptian record after lifting 338kg in the 56 kg weight class, which qualified me to participate in the IWF Junior World Weightlifting Championship in Prague, Czech Republic 2007," he said. Ihab finished fifth with a total lift of 238kg.

All in all, Ihab won 35 gold, 8 silver and 5 bronze medals in his glittering career.

The haul includes 11 medals at the IWF senior world championships, an Olympic bronzed medal at the 2016 Rio Games and 9 gold medals in African championships.

His most memorable one was the Olympic medal, which he clinched after lifting 165kg in the snatch and 196kg in the clean and jerk to achieve a total of 361kg in the 77kg weight category. Ihab came in third after Kazakhstan's Nijat Rahimov and Chinese Lu Xiaojun.

Ihab also finished 2016 in fourth place in the world rankings for the 77kg category.

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