In eastern Iraq, a small town builds weightlifting champions
An Iraqi boy lifts weights as he trains at the weightlifting club in the town of Badra near the Iraq-Iran border. - AFP
Badra (Iraq) - A weightlifting training centre, set up in 1993 in a Badra high school, is still in operation.
While some towns in Iraq are known for producing oil or textiles, Badra boasts its own special conveyer belt - churning out weightlifting champions.
In cafes along the main road dissecting the small town, 10km from the border with Iran, chatter rarely veers far from the successes of local lifters.
In the old days, "men measured their performance by lifting cast iron, often spare parts of cars," said Khudeir Basha, who grew up nearby and became coach of the national weightlifting team.
"In 1974, the youth of Badra decided to take part in the Iraqi championships," the bespectacled coach recalled, referring to himself and his friends.
The hopefuls headed south to Diwaniya province, where they swept up "all the prizes", astonishing fellow competitors who had never heard of Badra. Since then, he said, weightlifting has been synonymous with the town of 15,000, some 200km east of Baghdad.
A weightlifting training centre, set up in 1993 in a Badra high school, is still in operation.
The spartan hall echoes with shouts of encouragement by Basha, who sets an example by keeping himself in peak condition.
Heavy lifter Salwan Jassim Abbood, who is in the 105 kilogramme category, returned from the Asian weightlifting championships in Turkmenistan last year with a silver medal.
The new generation wants to "continue what Badra has launched in the weightlifting field", the thick-set athlete said. With seemingly little effort, Abbood propelled a barbell from the floor to far above his head, the bar ends sagging slightly under heavy discs.
In 2016, the 26-year-old took part in the Olympic Games in Brazil. Ten years previously, his brother Mohammed won silver at a contest in Qatar.
"It's up to us and the coaches to keep going so Badra remains a factory for champion weightlifters," said Abbood, who will represent Iraq at the Asian Games in Indonesia this summer.
Lifters here are acutely aware that they are upholding a tradition.
Weightlifters uphold a tradition>The Iraqi town of Badra is known for producing weightlifting champions.
>A weightlifting training centre, set up in 1993 in a high school, is still in operation.
>Badra resident Salwan Jassim Abbood won silver medal in the Asian weightlifting championships in Turkmenistan last year.
>Medal winners say they feel proud to have made this small town Iraq's capital of weightlifting.