Mohammed Hamada, a 20-year-old weightlifter from the Gaza Strip, is the first Palestinian athlete to represent Palestine globally during his participation in the 2022 IWF Weightlifting Junior World Championships held in Heraklion, Greece, during the first two weeks of May.
The sports field in Gaza faces many challenges, including the lack of large sports clubs that provide the necessary training for such individual Olympic sports, the lack of freedom of movement to and from Palestine, and the difficulty of obtaining visas for travel to some European countries.
Hamada, who returned from Greece on May 13, told Al-Monitor, “I started weightlifting when I was 12 years old, and my brother Hussam is the one who supported me to pursue this sport since he is the head and coach of the Palestine national weightlifting team of the Gaza Sports Club. I participated in many Arab and international tournaments, namely in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.”
He added, “Everyone suffers in the Gaza Strip, not just athletes. I faced many challenges, including the lack of many sports clubs and the lack of opportunities in the Gaza Strip. Athletes need a special diet, vitamins and nutritional supplements to help them build their bodies, and I am still a student; I do not work, and I rely on my father for all these costs. My father is a government employee, and his monthly salary is not enough to support nine people. Three of my brothers are also involved in bodybuilding and weightlifting and need nutritional supplements. Sometimes we would borrow money to buy supplements and vitamins.”
Hamada continued, “The club and the Palestinian Olympic Committee have refined my skills and motivated me to represent Palestine in world championships. [Before participating in the championship in Greece,] I traveled to the United Arab Emirates and Russia and partook in a 45-day intense training in boot camps. I underwent a general training period from January to March in Ras al-Khaimah in the UAE, and then we moved to Russia to the cities of Sochi and Chekhov from April until the competition in May.”
“This training greatly helped refine my skills, although we faced great challenges in obtaining visas for these countries, especially amid the war between Russia and Ukraine. But we were able to coordinate with the Palestinian Foreign Ministry and managed to succeed,” he said.
Hamda added, “I was going there (Greece) to win the gold medal and nothing else. When I told my friends about the championship, they were very worried because of the war in Russia, but I told them that we in Gaza are always accustomed to war and must travel to win and represent Palestine in such a world championship. And although I was fasting during Ramadan, I managed to win.”
Hamada explained the competition: “We started off as eight competitors from different countries in the 102 kg weight category; each of us had only three attempts. My first attempt was 156 kg and the second was 160 kg, which put me in fourth place. I only had one more shot, and the numbers close to the 160 kg category were taken by my fellow competitors. I had never lifted more than 165 kg, so this was a big risk for me. But I trained a lot to reach this competition and championship, so I had to take a chance and raise the weight to 168 kg.”
“I was very confident that I was going to win. When they called out my name, my coach and brother Hussam told me, ‘Mohammed, Palestine is waiting for you.’ This phrase pushed me to lift a weight of 168 kg, and I snatched the gold in weightlifting and the bronze in the clean and jerk competition after lifting 193 kg," he added.
Hamada dedicates his wins to Palestine and the spirit of the Palestinian martyrs and to Awad al-Aboudi, the Jordanian weightlifting champion who died last year.
Hamada’s brother Hussam told Al-Monitor, “Participating in this championship was a great responsibility for me because he is both my brother and my trainee. This was a national mission for us. Palestine should win in a global Olympic sports competition.”
“The International Olympic Committee has set the qualification system for the Olympic Games, which will be held in Paris in 2024, and this means that I will now be training my brother to qualify to participate in this very important competition for us. However, we have several competitions in the meantime, including the Arab Championship in Bahrain in October, the Asian Championship for juniors in Uzbekistan in July, the Islamic World Championship in Turkey in August and the Qatar Championship with the Asian Cup in December,” he said.
Hamada’s father, Khamis, told Al-Monitor, “I was watching the competition, and when they announced that my son had won, I started dancing and crying tears of joy. I never expected this to happen and for my son to win this world championship. Our family is very proud that our son is a Palestinian hero.”
Vice president of the Palestinian Olympic Committee Asaad al-Majdalawi told Al-Monitor, “Palestine has never won such a championship. This is Palestine’s first victory with a gold and bronze medal. Of course, I expected Hamada to win because his victory did not come by chance. Rather, it was proceeding according to a sports plan that we set in the Olympic Committee in coordination with the Palestinian Weightlifting Federation. For many years, we had been planning to prepare an Olympic champion, and his victory came through a cumulative process through previous participation and intense training.”
Majdalawi added, “All of us in Palestine feel proud despite the great challenges that the sports sector faces in the Gaza Strip due to the lack of freedom of movement to and from Palestine. But we and our youth were able to reach a global rank that will be a major addition to the history of Palestinian sports.”