Gold medalist Hossein Rezazadeh lifted a nation

Hossein-Rezazadeh

For all of the existential prose and philosophical poetry that has been written about the game of baseball, there is no sport that metaphorically mirrors the human experience more accurately than weightlifting.

Complex and simplistic at the same time, weightlifting is at its core a test of strength, endurance and resiliency. It’s about clearing obstacles in one’s path. It’s about picking up a heavy burden, lifting it over your head, then dropping it back to Earth as a conqueror. It requires both physical strength and mental strategy, and yet pure power and a sharp mind can fail a competitor if they don’t perform their tasks with the proper form.

Allah says in the Quran: “And We shall try you until We test those among you who strive their utmost and persevere in patience; and We shall try your reported mettle.” (Quran 48:31) That could be posted on the motivational wall of any weightlifting gym in the world.

Hossein Rezazadeh is recognized as no less than one of the greatest weightlifters in history.

Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing about 350 pounds in his prime, the super heavyweight Muslim from Iran won Olympic gold medals in 2000 (Sydney) and 2004 (Athens), as well as four World Championship gold medals, two Asian Games gold medals and three Asian Championship gold medals. He also earned bronze medals at the 1998 Asian Games and 1999 World Championships, both before his 22nd birthday.

Rezazadeh still owns the super-heavyweight world records for the clean-and-jerk (263 kilograms / 580 pounds) and for the total amount lifted in one competition combining the snatch and the clean-and-jerk (472 kg / 1,040 lbs.). He also owns all three Olympic records in his division: snatch (212 kg / 467 lbs.), clean-and-jerk and total.

“He was not only the strongest man on the planet, but he intimidated his competition like no other individual at the Olympic Games,” wrote columnist Blaine Newnham of The Seattle Times in 2004. “Both of the competitors who finished behind him … admitted they hadn’t even considered trying to win the gold medal.”

When Rezazadeh won his 2000 Olympic gold by lifting that world-record total, he became a trailblazer in more ways than one. His victory snapped a streak of Russian/Soviet dominance in the super heavyweight division that had dated back to the 1960s. He also brought attention to Islam with his routine of praying out loud before each lift and prostrating on the mat in prayer after some of his lifts, during a time when many Muslim athletes did not make such public displays of their faith. Today, several Muslim athletes in sports like soccer and track have been known to pray during competition.

During training for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Rezazadeh suffered from high blood pressure and injuries to his hands that forced him to miss the competition. That same year he announced his retirement from the sport at just 30 years old.

“The Iranian Hercules” is still a national hero, and his legend grew even larger when — after winning his first Olympic gold — he turned down a lucrative offer to become a citizen of Turkey and compete for that country in the 2004 Olympics. “I am an Iranian and love my country and people,” Rezazadeh said at the time. When Rezazadeh got married in the holy city of Mecca in 2003, the ceremony was broadcast on national TV in Iran.

Following his retirement from competition, Rezazadeh served short stints as the prime counselor, manager and head coach of the Iranian weightlifting team. After years of carrying the torch for Iranian weightlifting as a stand-alone star, Rezazadeh’s influence could be seen at the 2012 Olympics in London, when a deep Iranian squad took home one gold medal, two silvers and a bronze.

Rezazadeh is currently serving on the city council of Tehran, the capital city of Iran.

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