Picture a brawn paradise. Music blaring. Metal weights clanging. The trainer mouthing motivational nothings to get his wards to do that extra pull-up.
And in that sea of frantic activity, Fares Ibrahim stands out. He is the centre of attention at the gym, smiling, obliging every selfie and photo request, handing out fist bumps to one and all.
Shouldn’t surprise anyone, though, given the 23-year-old is Qatar’s first Olympic gold medallist, who lifted an Olympic record total of 402kgs in Tokyo on July 31 this year.
At the Tokyo International Forum, the weightlifter, nicknamed Meso, lifted 15kgs more than the silver and bronze medallists overall, courtesy an Olympic record clean and jerk lift of 225kgs.
Back in Doha, as he gives crossfit a go at Erada Fitness, the man was challenged with multiple reps of 50lbs lifts, something that he is not used to.
“We could be lifting 50lbs, which would mean nothing to us weightlifters, but doing it 50-60 times is the challenge here. It’s not lifting heavy, it’s cardio. It’s tough for us, but it is fun,” Fares says.
“We are at one of our friends’ gym, and they are into crossfit. It is different in every aspect from what we as weightlifters do. We love to come and join friends, it is so much fun; mixing up fitness routines.”
Even if he isn’t carrying the yellow metal around his neck, Fares understandably becomes the guy for others to watch at the gym. But his humility shines far brighter than the gold medal he proudly won for Qatar. Asked if he feels like the big guy when he walks into a gym, he breaks into a smile, “No no, it is all just very friendly, fun. No such thing as a big guy, come on.”
His win in Tokyo gave Qatar its first Olympic gold since the country’s first participation in the Summer Games in 1984 in Los Angeles. He, along with fellow Team Qatar medallists — gold medallist high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim, and bronze-winning beach volleyball duo Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan, were given a hero’s welcome on their arrival in Doha with His Highness Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani receiving the successful delegation from Tokyo on August 7.
The attention he gets is palpable.
“It’s beautiful that people care about you, care about the sport, welcome you, welcome your victory, (I am) happy about it. Of course I love it, love the support, it gives me a boost to keep training. That’s who we are, we do all of this hard work, and when we came back home, to Qatar, I saw people around me happy for me, for what I have achieved,” he tells Gulf Times.
The story goes that an 18-year-old Fares told Qatar Olympic Committee President HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani during a session at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games that he would win gold at Tokyo 2020.
“He (Sheikh Joaan) was really happy with our results (at Tokyo), he congratulated us. He has always supported us, before the competition, after the competition. Of course one of the reasons we got to this great results, we would like to thank him for all the belief he had in us. We promised him that this is not the end, and there is more coming.”
Promise kept, Fares found himself sleepless with his medal. “The first three nights after I won the gold, I couldn’t sleep. I was just lying down on the bed, holding my gold medal, and I am just like ‘I have it, I have it, it’s gold’. I did just that for three nights,” he chuckles.
And what about before the competition? “I slept well. We have a programme that we follow in everything and we follow it really well. We had a little bit of a stress but we managed that and everything went really well after that,” he says.
Right after the Olympic win, he was asked about the people who influenced him. Fares had replied, “The weightlifting federation supported me greatly, and the Qatar Olympic Committee headed by HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani. 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.”
But as the calm grows after celebrations, and Fares looks to the future, he only promises great results. “We have the Asian championships, World championships, we are looking for some great results. This time, we don’t want to talk about winning gold and this and that. We are only looking for great results. Something never done before,” he says.
Fares’ frequent use of “we” is unmistakable. As he undergoes his routine, his father and coach, Ibrahim, a weightlifter himself in his hey days, and brother Hassouna keep a watchful eye over the athlete’s every move in the gym. It’s perhaps Fares’ way of acknowledging the team effort that has taken to win an individual gold.
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