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Commonwealth Games: Weightlifting feat inspires fans

Itohan Ebireguesele of Nigeria strains every sinew on her way to the silver medal. Picture: Getty

Itohan Ebireguesele of Nigeria strains every sinew on her way to the silver medal. Picture: Getty

Those who seek inspiration from moments of history in sport should have been at the SECC Conference Centre for the men’s 85kgs weightlifting last evening.

They would have seen something remarkable, something that those of us ‘in the know’ and who were there will never forget.

Moving tentatively from behind the backdrop on the stage of the Armadillo, Malek Chamoun of Australia was led by his father George towards the reinforced decking on which lay a steel bar with a total of 140kgs of metal at either end.

Chamoun needed the paternal guide, as he has been blind since the age of 15. At just after 8pm, he became the first blind man to compete in able-bodied weightlifting in the Commonwealth Games.

Tentatively, feelingly, he ran his hands along the bar, looking for the grooves that give him purchase. Then he bent and braced himself, and in one dramatic movement snatched the bar above his head and stood up, only to overbalance and drop the weight behind him.

There should have been a happy ending to the story, but whether it was nerves or unfamiliarity with his surroundings, Chamoun tried twice more to lift the 140kgs weight, and each time the effort proved beyond him, the bar falling to his rear, meaning elimination and automatic last place in a competition that was eventually won by New Zealand’s Richard Patterson with Vikas Thakur of India in silver and Canada’s Pascal Plamondon taking the bronze medal.

It was a tight contest played out in friendly competitive spirit before an appreciative crowd. The winner’s total was 335kgs, some way behind the world record of 394kgs held by Andrei Rybakou of Belarus, and with all due respect to the medallists, the feat of Chamoun in even making it onto the Glasgow stage was the most noteworthy happening of the evening.

Chamoun was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a youngster and was declared legally blind at 15. Many people in the sold-out arena were aware that Chamoun suffers such a colossal disability in a sport that relies as much on technical ability as sheer strength, so they cheered him to the echo, even as he failed.

He will head home to Sydney with the echoes of their vocal encouragement ringing in his ears – and he has vowed to carry on in able-bodied competition.

It was not the only highlight of human endeavour that was witnessed at the weightlifting venue yesterday.

The extraordinary English girl Rebekah Tiler caught the audience’s imagination during the women’s 69kgs and no wonder, for she is a mere 15-years-old.

Billed as Britain’s strongest schoolgirl, Tiler faced a make of break lift of 123 kgs – heavier than an international rugby prop forward – and for a second, it seemed she had managed it, only for her back muscles to seize up with the effort, causing the bar to fall.

It meant a fourth-place finish and serious disappointment for the Yorkshire lass because she had set her heart on a medal and had lifted 123 kgs in training.

“I was so close, I nearly had it,” said a remarkably composed Tiler afterwards. “I was screaming inwardly, ‘I’ve got it, I’ve got it’ but then all of a sudden my back went, and I thought, ‘Oh no, I’ve missed out on a medal’ but I am going to come back stronger.”

Tiler started lifting weights at the age of three – yes, you read that correctly – inspired by her father Chris. She has three sisters, Sophie, Lisa and Emily, who is just five and is already copying her big sister.

Tiler will next take part in the world youth championships before taking her GCSEs next year. “The crowd here was really good,” said Tiler, “I loved it and I am buzzing from it still.

“My dream is to be world and Olympic champion, and I will keep training hard and come back stronger.

“I am already in preparation to get to Rio in 2016. I can feel myself getting stronger every day.” The gold medal went to comfortable winner Marie Fegue of Cameroon who equalled the Commonwealth Games record of 132kgs for the clean and jerk.

It was 10kgs more than any other competitor could manage, and meant she romped home with a total weight of 234kgs, some 12kgs clear of silver medal winner Itohan Ebireguesele of Nigeria, with Marie-Josee Ares-Pilon of Canada taking bronze.

Scotland’s Louise Mather finished 11th of 13 in the contest, meaning that Peter Kirkbride now shoulders the responsibility of saving Scottish weightlifting’s bacon.

Almost literally so, because funding now depends on success, and the governing body of the sport in Scotland will be hoping that the silver medallist from Delhi will repeat at least that achievement in the 94kgs division which is scheduled for later today.

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