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Safaa Aljumaili (IRQ): “It’s a very positive return to competition!”

It is a fact that Havana, in Cuba, is perhaps not the most accessible destination for travellers around the world – firstly, not many international airline companies are flying to the Caribbean island; secondly, the majority of foreigners have to complete administrative and visa procedures to enter the country. But this situation is not felt equally by all nations worldwide. When you come from Iraq, these obstacles may be harder to overcome – and Safaa Aljumaili had a good odyssey to tell before getting today the bronze medal of the men’s 89kg at the IWF Grand Prix in the Cuban capital.


To make the story short, he left Baghdad and after driving long hours to Iraqi Kurdistan, waiting more than 17 hours in an airport, paying around US$ 1’000 to change the ticket, as a plane was lost on the way, he finally gets to Havana – even the IWF President Mohammed Jalood (himself an Iraqi national) had to personally intervene to unblock the situation! But the minimum we can say is that the long and exhausting trip was worth all these difficulties. Absent from the Olympic rankings so far, he finishes on 161-200-361 (16th provisional place), close to the “cut” (at 364kg) for the top-10 ranking ensuring a place in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris (FRA). It was the best possible reward after such an “adventure”.

Safaa Aljumaili (IRQ)

However, the 33-year-old was not entirely satisfied with his performance. “I was expecting a bit more, even to get the gold. In the end, I got two medals [he was also third in the clean and jerk], so it was positive. With the help of God and of my entourage, I hope I can improve at the next available opportunity for me, the IWF World Championships in Riyadh. The most important is that I also finished my competition in good health and I had no injury”.


On his successful result counting for the Olympic ranking – only two athletes managed to enter in the top-10 in this category, US Nathan Damron, with 365kg (but he had better, with a previous 370kg effort), and the winner here in Cuba, the Individual Neutral Athlete Petr Asayonak, with a total of 368 kg – Aljumaili approached his personal best, established in 2017 when he was still competing in the 85kg (161-204-365). “The goal, now that I am in the upper category, is to obviously increase that total. It’s the only way I can dream about the Olympics in Paris. But, the hope is well alive and if I get to compete in the Games, I aim for a medal there”.

The Iraqi star was an Olympian in London 2012 – where he finished 10th –, but a two-year doping suspension from 2013 to 2015 “broke” the progression in his career. Determined to be back in good shape, he gets his best result so far in 2018, the gold in the 85kg category at the Asian Games (exactly with the same total as the one today in Cuba: 159-202-361).


Aljumaili is an example of perseverance in the sport. He started early, at 10, basically because of friends also practicing it. “It’s not a family story. I had no relatives involved in weightlifting. We were a group of friends, some went to try the sport and I followed them. As simple as that. I was a strong guy and it suited me well. Also, my first coach immediately noticed that I had the potential for weightlifting – he told me I would be a champion one day. Being still a child, it was difficult to believe in that and to see where it would lead me, but I continued training hard and improving. In 2009, I started competing internationally, and now, 14 years later, here I am, trying to qualify for the Games in Paris,” he adds.


The first record of the Iraqi star on the IWF results page relates to his participation at the 2009 IWF World Championships, where he finished 20th in the 77kg – at the time with 140-175-315. Before Cuba, the Covid pandemic meant a three-year break, his previous result being a 330kg effort at the West Asian Championships… in February 2020! “This is in reality my return to competition. It’s good to be back and to perform well. This event has a good level, and being an Olympic category, the group of athletes competing with me is obviously very strong,” the Iraqi star recognises.

With today’s performance, Aljumaili, who lives and trains in Iraq, joins the only other lifter from his nation in the top-20 of the Olympic ranking. In the men’s +109kg, Ali Rubaiawi is also the provisional 16th best of the classification. Since its first participation at the 1948 Games in London, the country has won only one medal in 1960, curiously in weightlifting: the Iraqi hero at the time was Abdul Wahid Aziz, in the men’s lightweight category (67.5kg).

By Pedro Adrega, IWF Communications