weightlifter Cyrille Tchatchet: from despair to Olympic dream | Tokyo Olympics 2020

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TWeightlifter Cyrille Tchatchet stood on the edge of a cliff in Sussex, contemplating suicide. Having left the Athletes’ Village during the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, he feared for his safety if he returned to his native Cameroon. Tchatchet had been forced to live on the streets in Brighton for two months, sleeping under a bridge, surviving on handouts and becoming increasingly depressed.

“I was in a new country,” he says. ” I did not know anyone. I was ashamed. You feel suicidal all the time because you think you are just plain useless. Fortunately, he saw a poster advertising the Samaritans on the wire fence separating the grass from the steep slope. Tchatchet called the helpline, was persuaded not to jump, and soon after two police cars arrived to bring him to safety.

Now, seven years later, he has been selected as one of 29 members of the international refugee team to compete in the Tokyo Olympics, one of the most valid ideas of the otherwise disappointing presidency of Thomas Bach of the International Olympic Committee.

The intervention of the Samaritans was only the beginning of a struggle to build a new life for Tchatchet in Britain. A two-year legal battle was necessary to obtain refugee status. He remained depressed but received treatment and advice from the NHS. The medical clinic encouraged him to resume a sports career.

He also obtained a Diploma in Mental Health Nursing, with First Class Honors from Middlesex University. Tchatchet currently practices with a community mental health team in Harrow, with around one in 10 visiting people at home when they do not wish to enter the clinics. “I am giving something back to this country,” he said. “It is a place where there is freedom of speech, freedom of movement and many opportunities.”

Cyrille Tchatchet competing for Cameroon in the 85kg weightlifting competition at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

In 2022, he will apply for British citizenship, as he has been in this country for six years since he was granted refugee status. He retains Cameroonian nationality but does not return to the country where his family, including his five siblings, remain. He refuses to say what made him decide not to go back, simply saying it was “a long term problem”.

Tchatchet, who will be 26 during the Games, looks back on the events of his debut in England in a soft and monotonous tone: “It was a lifelong experience, although unfortunately difficult. At the time, I was very young. I didn’t ask for help early enough. I learned to be more open.

His immersion in weightlifting allowed him to focus on his job. He won UK titles, competing as a resident of that country, in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and is now set for Tokyo, where so many countries have been restricted in their number of entries or even banned from competing due to the level of positive doping tests in sport.

British three-time Olympic weightlifter Mike Pearman believes Tchatchet is a candidate for the top six in his under 96 kg category. “He’s definitely a talent. He has good technique and is very consistent. If his citizenship arrives on time, he could be a very important person in England’s puzzle for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next year. Four Britons, Zoe Smith, Emily Campbell, Sarah Davies and Emily Muskett, but no men, will compete in Tokyo.

Built with thighs like traffic bollards, Tchatchet trains at Middlesex University gymnasium in a team of 15. Mai Zetterling, the director, who made a film about competing in the 1972 Olympics, said weightlifting is a sport that “gets lost in the suburbs. It’s private, obsessive. But Tchatchet says the will Individual lifting ever heavier weights is aided by camaraderie, the social environment of the gym. “In weightlifting, it’s also easy to see your progress. There is a constant feeling of improvement.

Tchatchet’s best lifts in Olympic disciplines are a 165 kg snatch, in which the bar is pulled in a single movement over the head while the competitor falls below, and a 205 kg clean and jerk, where the athlete pulls the bar across the chest, squatting, stands up and then leads him over. On the core strength movement of a deep knee bend or squat, Tchatchet weighed 270kg, more than the combined body weights of the two heaviest international rugby accessories.

Cyrille Tchatchet, refugee weightlifter.
Tchatchet, who will compete in the Tokyo Olympics as part of the International Refugee Team, will apply for British citizenship in 2022. Photograph: David Levene / The Guardian

These performances were achieved at 102 kg and Tchatchet wants to duplicate them in his lighter category at the Games, which will be a test because the more weight you lose the less kilograms you can generally increase. weightlifting at Middlesex University, says that since Tchatchet came to Hendon, his “trajectory of improvement has been phenomenal. Tchatchet is very coachable and we have good discussions. Its success is due to its work ethic. We are working on things like improving the lift of the bar from the floor, so that it is closer to the body and better controlled. “

Chavda says Tchatchet is “good at controlling your diet,” essential in a sport where weight classes are so important. However, that doesn’t stop him from occasionally enjoying a Cameroonian favorite dish of yams with ndole, a soup made from bitter leaves and peanuts. The IOC pays all members of the refugee team £ 1,200 per month for living and training costs.

Tchatchet sees his participation in Tokyo not only as an opportunity to take part in the biggest sporting event in the world but also as a defender of a good cause, seeing himself as a representative of the 80 million displaced people in the world.

He sees the refugee team, which was originally presented for the Rio Games, as a “message of hope, a message of solidarity that being a refugee does not mean the end”. He knows.


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