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Iranians proud of their Hercules

August 26, 2004 17:20 IST
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Iranians swelled with pride on Thursday after weightlifter Hossein Rezazadeh confirmed his status as the world's strongest man at the Athens Olympics.

Hossein RezazadehKnown affectionately as the "Iranian Hercules", Rezazadeh, equalled his own world record total lift of 472.5 kg with an ease and panache that crushed super-heavyweight competitors.

"I was so proud because this year we sent Hercules to Athens," said Shirin, 35, a furniture designer in Tehran.

"He won because he believes in God," the Islamic Republic's Abrar-e Varzeshi newspaper said.

"Iran's national anthem was played in Athens, thanks to our champion," said the state-run Iran newspaper.

"His gold gained Iran respect."

President Mohammad Khatami told Rezazadeh in a message: "Your ranking first was not only a sporting victory but a proper response to our nation's expectations. I congratulate you, therefore, for delighting the hearts of the Iranian nation."

State television on Wednesday showed hundreds of people in Rezazadeh's home city of Ardebil cheering and letting off fireworks to celebrate the local hero's triumph.

"We thank you for delighting tens of millions of Iranians," Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a message.

Rezazadeh, a devout Muslim who whispers a prayer before each lift, came from nowhere four years ago to win the crown and his title was never in serious threat in Athens.

His victory confirmed his status as the country's only real sporting superstar. His stocky form gazes down from Tehran billboards advertising a motor oil, vying with Michael Schumacher and David Beckham who front rival brands.

Iran's other best chance for a medal ended in controversy last week when judo world champion Arash Miresmaeili pulled out after being drawn against an Israeli in the first round.

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