July 31, 2021, will be etched in Qatar’s sporting history in golden letters. Almost 29 years after Mohamed Suleiman won Qatar’s first Olympic medal, a bronze in 1,500m, 23-year-old Fares Ibrahim won the country’s first gold in weightlifting, with an Olympic record.
He hasn’t slept properly since the historic achievement out of joy, he said in an interview on Thursday. He talks about how his conversation with His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has motivated him to prepare for another gold in Paris in 2024, how he told Qatar Olympic Committee President HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani back in 2016 that he will win gold in Tokyo, and how his hard work and training actually put him at ease at the Games.
First of all, congratulations on achieving Qatar’s first gold medal at the Olympics. Tell us about your feeling on the achievement?
Before achieving the medal, specifically in the early stages of the competition, it was a very difficult feeling. I have been through many tournaments of high level but this is Olympics. While we were confident about our training and the work we put in, there definitely was some nervousness, pressure, but also a desire to achieve something for Qatar. And thank God we succeeded. I can find no words to describe the feeling. It’s been three days after the medal, but I still can’t sleep from the joy and happiness of this achievement.
This is your second Olympic participation. What was the goal going into Tokyo 2020?
We entered the competition in Tokyo with the aim of winning gold. We had charted out a plan right after the 2016 Olympics. We had confidence in the work we did, and the efforts made by the federation, the team, the coach, the assistant coach and the entire apparatus, and thank God our effort was crowned with a gold medal.
You had diverse tactics during the competition. Can you shed some light?
In such high-pressure competitions, there are many tactics one can use, including lifting a kilo more than your direct competitor or by lifting a very heavy weight, which forces them to rethink and sometimes pushes them to compete among themselves. It is a risk, but a calculated one, one that needs you to have an advantage in clean and jerk, which I had. You need to trust your ability to achieve it, and thank God we succeeded.
Why did you decide to attempt 232kg (world record) despite having bagged the gold already?
Between each attempt, there is a time of two minutes. My previous attempt was 225, and that was an Olympic record. If I had had four to five minutes more, I think I would have lifted 232kg.
Looking at the strong competitors, was there anxiety or fear, or were you confident of winning?
We were comfortable because of the efforts we had put in during preparation, but in weightlifting sometimes there are surprises. For example, we had not taken the Venezuelan competitor (Keydomar Vallenilla) into account, but had taken the Belarusian (Yauheni Tsikhantsou) and Georgian competitor (Anton Pliesnoi). The Belarusian, at the 2019 world championship, had lifted 180 x 218. But maybe it was pressure, lack of focus, he missed attempts.
Where did your confidence at the Olympics come from?
Confidence came from the work I had put in, the planning and the diligence. We trained hard and had continuous camps. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, during a session with HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani (President of the Qatar Olympic Committee), I was 18 at the time and the youngest player in weightlifting competitions there, I had said that I would get gold in Tokyo 2020. His Excellency said, “Bronze.” I said, “No, it will be gold.” Sheikh Joaan again said, “Take silver.” I said, “no, gold, I want gold.” From 2016, there has been continuous work. In a year, I only have 10 days off, when I go light on training. Thank God, because that gave us confidence.
What are your ambitions at the Paris 2024?
My ambition is to win a second gold medal.
Who are your supporters and who influenced you to win the Tokyo 2020 gold?
My parents were certainly very supportive, especially my father. I give him the biggest credit for what I achieved. He was always with me in everything, in training, in difficulties, in successes. The weightlifting federation supported me greatly, and the Qatar Olympic Committee headed by HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani, constantly supported me with advice and conversations, as well as with his attendance at the competition, and this is something I am proud of. His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani remains the greatest supporter, and his call has given me motivation to prepare for the Paris Olympics. The Tokyo 2020 gold is the beginning of more achievements, God willing, and more honour for Qatar. My promise, God willing, is to win a second gold medal at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
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