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“Despite almost 40 years in the sport, I’ll never forget these days!”

The enthusiastic words belong to Patric Bettembourg, the coach of the IWF Refugee Team, after the first Training Camp of this group, held from June 23 to July 1 in Halmstad, Sweden. “We shared many happy moments and many hard stories, but the most important in the end is that we became a real team,” adds Bettembourg, who supervised for nine days the training of four athletes in the headquarters of barbell company Eleiko. “This Refugee Team is really an amazing group of lifters!”

Patric Bettembourg, the coach of the IWF Refugee Team

After the constitution of the first-ever IWF Refugee Team, at the beginning of April, this was the first available occasion for a joint training camp, two months before the start of the major IWF rendezvous of the year, the World Championships in Riyadh (KSA). Four athletes could travel to Halmstad (out of seven members of the team), and the general feeling was very positive after the experience. “Everything has gone very smoothly and we had very good conditions to train. Moreover, the hotel and the food were excellent. The Eleiko centre is offering an optimal environment for the lifters,” states the Swedish coach.

Present in Sweden were Parisa Jahanfekrian (originally from Iran), Aline de Souza and Monique Araujo (both Brazilian natives), and also male lifter Addriel Garcia (Cuba). The three remaining lifters of the group – Clementine Meukeugni Noumbissi (Cameroon, but living in Great Britain), Fawaz Mohammed Saleh Hussein (Yemen/Saudi Arabia), and Reza Rouhi (Iran/Great Britain) – could not, despite all IWF efforts on this matter, join the training camp due to the difficulty in leaving their respective host country for the moment.

Reflecting on the possible differences between the athletes’ expectations and the outcome of the camp, Bettembourg is clear: “Before their arrival, they expected a lot from this opportunity. At the end of it, I believe the level of satisfaction is excellent”. From a more technical perspective, he considers that given the time between April and now, “all lifters were in the best possible shape”. However, there is of course room for improvement: “They will need to progress, but they have done a great job in such a short time. Even during the days we were together, we could see a lot of progression. They are on a good path – if they continue training consistently”.

Aline de Souza and Addriel Garcia

Working with these “special” athletes for the first time in his long career, Bettembourg was impressed with their team spirit and mutual solidarity: “I have never met a group of athletes behaving so well and supporting each other so much!” The Swede has an explanation for that: “These lifters are very thankful for being able to be back to the sport they love. It’s an opportunity for them to start again, as weightlifting means everything for them”.

Parisa Jahanfekrian

The Worlds in Saudi Arabia, to be staged from September 4-17, will be the first opportunity to see these athletes in action, as part of a Refugee Team. “They can all do good lifts there. It will be a great beginning in their ‘new’ career,” the coach admits. Because, as he rightfully concludes, “sometimes not only medals count”.

By Pedro Adrega, IWF Communications