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Today and yesterday's champions
While Iranian weightlifters scoop gold, previous champions struggle to survive

By Dr. Mohammad Ala
November 26, 2003
The Iranian
 
The 73rd men's and 16th women's World Weightlifting Championship took place inVancouver, Canada from 11th through 22nd November 2003. 

Similar to Wrestling, Weightlifting is a sport whose history in world competitions spans across three centuries: from 1891 through the 20th century.  Iran officially participated in international competition in 1939 when the Weightlifting Federation of Iran was founded.

The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) today is comprised of 167 countries; over ten thousand weightlifters participate in official competitions annually.
 
Although no world record was broken by Iranians athletes, they did well in Vancouver, earning second in number of total medals and fifth in total points earned.  Falahati-Nejad, who won gold in the 77 kg category, was announced "Weightlifter of the World" in 2003.

Because of its total points, Iran has been qualified to send at least six athletes to the 2004 Athens Olympic games.

I was one of the people who followed the Vancouver Championship games very closely.  The climax of excitement was when our 2002 World and 2000 Olympic champion, Hossein Rezazadeh, won the heavy weight gold medal.

While surfing the website for this year's events, I ran into a piece of information which caught my attention.  There was another Iranian hero mentioned, namely Mohammad Nasiri, who now lives and works in Vancouver, Canada.  Through some friends I learned that Nasiri is working in a small restaurant in North Vancouver, cleaning tables and helping out in the kitchen.

For those who do not know Nasiri, he won world championships for Iran in 1968, 69, 70, 73, and 1974.  In addition, he won many other titles, including points and medals in the following Olympic Games: 1964, 1968 (Gold), 1972 (Silver), and 1976 (Bronze).

I met Nasiri in a cold winter day in Tehran in 1976 in front of Bank Markazi at Ferdousi Street.  I told him that we loved him for what he had accomplished for Iran.  He told me that, although he had a shoulder injury, Iran's weightlifting federation wanted him to lift weights in an upcoming international event.  He was worried about further injury to his shoulder.

When I shared Nasiri's plight with a friend, he mentioned a story in the Iran Sport magazine in the 1970's about a Bulgarian training program which was modeled on Nasiri's world championship performance.  The person who was admired by many athletes all over the world and brought us Olympic gold and five world championship is now washing dishes inVancouver, Canada.

I have no knowledge of what caused him to move abroad nor why he is seemingly forgotten in Iran. Certainly, washing dishes is nothing to be ashamed of to ensure economic survival.  But I cannot help feeling shame for a people who have allowed their international legend fall on such hard times in a foreign land.

Of course, the weightlifting federation should have helped him in some way, but we the Iranian people also share responsibility for his situation. We cannot rely on the federation to take care of our heroes.  In a city and continent full of rich Iranians, who by the thousands pay several hundreds of dollars to attend a concert or see a show, couldn't Iranians create an organization to care for people like him?

It is painful to imagine that one day a recent hero such as Hossein Rezazadeh, who rejected a $10 million Turkish federation offer of cash and a house, might end up washing dishes, because he loved his country and did not want to sell his soil and pride for the luxury which many Iranians now enjoy.  Mahmoud Namjoo, another hero who won Olympic medals, received no assistance in his time of sickness from either the Iranian federation or the community and was only remembered after he died. 

There is no reason to wait until our heroes are gone.  Many Iranians are splurging their money on non-essential materials.  They have gotten their priorities wrong; then they are unhappy regarding our current international status.

I believe that the members of the Iranian community in Canada are no better off than they are in the USA.  They rarely support each other.  I have more respect for people who wash dishes and are proud of who they are than for those who change their names and forget where they came from. 

The major thing that no one can ever take away from Namjoo and Nasiri is the love and fondness that many Iranians have for them.  We will remember and praise them for their world record breaking feats even as we jumped up and down while we were watching them.  They will be not forgotten, as long as there are Iranians who cherish their accomplishments and bravery.
 
Author

Dr. Mohammad Ala teaches Production and Operations Management both in Iran and in the USA at California State University, Los Angeles.  He is a board member of persiangulfonline.org, president of iic.org and the founder of iran-heritage.org and iranalliance.org.

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