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World's strongest man ready for more

Steve Keating in Athens | August 24, 2004

There are hundreds of gold medals on offer at the Athens Olympics but only three mythical titles.

The 100 metres proclaims "the world's fastest man" and the decathlon the "world's greatest athlete".

But the title that may fascinate more than any other is "the world's strongest man", to be bestowed in the super-heavyweight competition before a sold-out crowd on Wednesday.

Hossein RezazadehIranian Hercules, Hossein Rezazadeh, a human crane able to hoist refrigerators with the same ease mere mortals can lift a briefcase, is the defending champion.

A burly 160 kg (353 lbs) bundled into a 6-ft 1-in (1.85m) frame, Rezazadeh is literally Olympic weightlifting's biggest attraction.

The devout Muslim, who whispers a prayer before each lift, looks set to increase his world records towards the 500-kg mark in two lifts but may wait until Beijing in 2008 to attempt this mythical weight.

"He is our superstar, he is a great weightlifter and great man," gushed International Weightlifting Federation president Tamas Ajan, when asked what the hulking Iranian meant to his sport, which has once again been buffeted by doping scandals at the Athens Games.

While the IWF hopes to use the hugely popular Rezazadeh to polish the sport's drug stained image around the world, the Iranian is in no need of promotion at home where he is a hero.

An athlete who had a branch of the Iran state bank named after him for winning gold in Sydney, Rezazadeh cares little about money, reportedly rejecting a $20,000 a month offer to take up Greek citizenship and lift for the Olympic hosts.

Turkey, never shy about offering up cash for lifters, was also reportedly in the bidding making a $10 million pitch.

But being a champion in Iran is not without its rewards, Iran president Mohammad Khatami awarding Rezazadeh 600 million rial ($71,400) to buy a house in the capital Teheran.

At the 1998 junior world championships there was little to suggest Rezazadeh would one day dominate the sport after finishing sixth in the snatch and failing to make a lift in the clean and jerk.

But two years later at the Sydney Olympics, he took the sport in his vice-like grip ripping the gold from Russia's Andrei Chemerkin.

Since then the Iranian has stamped his authority on the weightlifting world, placing his name beside every super-heavyweight world record and adding a pair of world championship titles to his resume.

"My rivals have confessed that they just think of the silver medal," Rezazadeh noted in a recent newspaper interview.

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