Often these athletes have no chance of winning a medal, yet they finish the competitions as winners of hearts. For the exotics at the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, the motto is not always just “being there is everything”.
Cyrille Tchatchet II’s story began in 2014 when, as a then 19-year-old, he fled the team camp after finishing fifth at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow because he didn’t feel safe enough to return to his home country. So shortly after, the Cameroonian found himself on the streets of Brighton, sleeping under a bridge with no money and no shelter. Suicidal thoughts were going through Tchatchet’s mind at this point, but fortunately he didn’t let it get that far. He saw the phone number for Samaritans – a charity that helps people in emotional distress – and contacted them. A native of Cameroon, he was taken into custody by police and transferred to a deportation center in Dover.
His physical health improved as his asylum case progressed. The doctor Tchatchet saw prescribed that his patient start playing sports again – and that was to be the teenager’s salvation. He began lifting again at a local club and it wasn’t long before he was competing in British regionals. This was followed by successes such as British champion in the weight classes up to 94kg and 96kg as well as several national records. As a reward, Tchatchet received the “Refugee Athlete” scholarship from the International Olympic Committee and will now compete for the IOC Refugee Team at the Tokyo Olympics.
Cyrille Tchatchet lifts for the IOC Refugee Team at the Tokyo Olympics.
In addition to his career as a weightlifter, he began training as a mental health nurse to rehabilitate others who have suffered similar trauma to his own. “Just playing sports has allowed me to basically stop thinking,” he said of returning to the hobby that makes him happiest. And what brings Tchatchet especially good luck before a competition? The night before, he eats celery and takes a hot bath.
Weightlifting where others go on vacation
Hanitra Roilya Ranaivosoa from Mauritius actually competed in Taekwondo, but since there were too few Mauritian weightlifters at the “Indian Ocean Island Games” in Victoria, Seychelles, she changed sports without further ado and suddenly stood on the platform. This decision should turn out to be a good one. Ranaivosoa already competed at the past Summer Olympics in Rio 2016, where she finished ninth in the up to 48kg category.
Another athlete who is almost alone in her sport in her country is Yazmin Zammit Stevens. The weightlifter from Malta is the first female athlete to compete in an Olympics for her country in weightlifting. Until then, however, the 27-year-old had to master a difficult path. Four years after she started lifting, an ankle injury threw her off track, draining her physically and taking her mentally as well. She was on the verge of ending her career in weightlifting, but she kept fighting and came back. “It’s okay to cry. And it’s OK to feel like you almost want to give up,” Zammit Stevens said. The 27-year-old turned that low point into a breakthrough and has now managed to make history; she is the first Maltese woman to lift (-64kg) at the Tokyo Olympics.
Ice hockey in winter, lifting in summer
Dutchman Enzo Kuworge, affectionately known as Tyson even as a child because he is said to have been as strong as U.S. boxer Mike Tyson at a young age, is the only athlete from his country to represent the Netherlands in weightlifting at the Tokyo Olympics. Actually, the 19-year-old was found on the ice, where he was on skates, shooting the puck into the goal. Eventually, however, Kuworge was looking for a sport he could also do in summer. He visited a gym with his grandmother and discovered his love for weightlifting.
And for this love, the 19-year-old invests a lot. He works out for six hours a day during the week and adds three-hour sessions at the weekend, not forgetting his regeneration. To reduce the strain on his legs, he walks less and rides his bike to workouts. And that has obviously paid off. In 2018 he won the bronze medal in Buenos Aires at the Youth Olympic Games (+85kg) and later that year he won gold at the World Junior Championships in Tashkent with 411 total points (+109kg). Now Kuworge will also represent his home country at the Olympic Games and attack there.