• Bunce on Olympics

Iran's untouchables

Steve Bunce August 8, 2012
Behdad Salimikordasiabi is the biggest of the big daddies © PA Photos
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So it was gold for Salimi in the 105 plus weightlifting and the medal looked snug round his 24 inch neck, barely reaching his chest yet able on tiny gymnasts to look like it could bounce off their hips.

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It was a day of tears, records, glory and national pride in the final weightlifting event as Iran took one and two and took their medal tally to a record high of eight, including four golds. Four of the medals came in the weightlifting pit and the men from Tehran have replaced the muscle-gut goliaths from the old Soviet republics as the genuine big daddy competitors of Olympic extremes.

Behdad Salimikordasiabi even went for a world record after securing gold but the big lad had done his stuff and failed at 264 kgs. It was valiant, heroic and in the crowd sat the man that holds the record and is considered the Godfather of weightlifting in Iran, Hossein 'No Boundaries' Rezazadeh. They cried and hugged like loving sons. Rezazadeh, by the way, won gold in Sydney and set an age record of 22 years and 137 days, which Salimi, as he is known even in Iranian circles, narrowly missed capturing by just 106 days. I had to go deep to get the behind the scenes stuff on the Persian wonders because they do not surrender their secrets easily.

In Salimi's vast slipstream is Sajjad Hamlabad and he took the dramatic silver to leave the hulking pair as the untouchables in the lifting business. The entire team is so big that they have been forced to separate whenever they need to take a lift in the village.

"It is part of our life in Iran to lift weights and to wrestle (three of the eight medals were gold in the wrestling) and this has just been a great time for all of the Iranian team," said Hamlabad, who forget protocol at the end and jumped forward to celebrate with his training partner after the final gold-medal lift. "It was a win for all of Iran."

The gold belonged to Salimi and his tale of hardship and struggle is incredible. In 2010 he won the Asian Games in China and he was suffering from swine flu. The Asian Games for weightlifting, which includes all of the Stans from the Soviet heyday, is like being the British cycling track king; it's the unofficial No. 1 position in the world.

Salimi collapsed during one of his clean and jerk lifts at the Asian Games and officials used smelling salts to wake the giant up. He is, by the way, 6ft 6in and just under 27 stone. "He has the heart of a bear," said Hamlabad.

There is something special about Olympic weightlifting and the way that the crowd, which is always packed with knowledgeable people, respond to the efforts of the lonely men and women up on the platform. The big lads from Iran provided the perfect curtain closer.

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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.