Power and courage are the qualities that define UAE’s veteran Para powerlifter Mohammed Khamis Khalaf. The mighty powerlifter might be in the twilight of his career, but his motivation and hunger to win is akin to a rookie.
Khalaf, who will be turning 51 later this month, says that his love for Powerlifting has grown with the tests and the challenges the sport has posed over the years.
"I love challenges, and this is one sport which challenges me, my strength and power," Khalaf said in an interview with IPC.
Khalaf is currently in Thailand for training and is preparing for his fifth Paralympic Games and hopes to repeat a golden campaign at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
He already has two gold each, from Athens 2004 and Rio 2016. He also clinched a silver at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.
"I want to fight for gold medal in Tokyo," he stressed. "I have been working hard for this. It will be just so amazing to stand on top of the Paralympics podium and hear the UAE national anthem once again."
Khalaf has already qualified in the 97kg category after he lifted 220kg in his only successful third attempt at the Nur-Sultan 2019 World Para Powerlifting Championships.
The upcoming IWAS World Games 2020 and the Fazza 2020 Para Powerlifting World Cup (14-20 April ) will be his next events which will test his strength in the run up to the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Khalaf is confident of putting up a good show in both the events.
"The preparation of the team for Tokyo 2020 has already begun. Recently, we had a three-week training camp at the Dubai Club for People of Determination. I’m currently in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, training for the IWAS World Games 2020, where we will have another training camp before the championships. This will be an important camp in terms of preparation."
‘Qualifying in 88kg also in mind’ The Fazza World Cup in Khalaf’s backyard will be a another "significant" event before the Paralympic Games considering, he will be focusing on qualify in the 88kg weight category. He will start there as one of the firm favourites being the defending champion (97kg) at the event.
"In Rio 2016, I won the gold in 88kg category. So, I will try to qualify in that as well and then, I and my coach (Tito Qassem) will evaluate in which event I will have better chance of winning a medal. It will be a challenge but not impossible."
The champion powerlifter has already shed weight and is now fancying his chances at the home event.
"I have already lost four kilos and following a strict limited-carb diet and its going well so far. In terms of training, apart from gym training that include a lot of bench press, I am focusing on strengthening exercises so that my body is injury free and strong enough for competitions."
"I am 50 years old now and thus the challenge is even more for me than my fellow junior powerlifters. I get tired quickly so I have to focus on building my stamina, as well. Also, I need to take extra care of not getting injured during training.
"Having said that, I know one thing that my body might be old but not my mind. And with the right technique and my experience, I believe I can beat the best in the business and defend my Paralympic title," asserted Khalaf, quashing any talks of retirement in near future.
Paralympics means everything Khalaf became emotional speaking about his favourite Paralympic moment. He said he has some "special memories" from the 2004 Athens Games where he picked up his first Paralympic medal - gold.
"The first Paralympic medal is always special and thus Athens 2004 will be the closest to my heart. That medal changed my life completely, opened several opportunities and made me the person I am today.
"To be able to repeat that moment in Tokyo 2020 would be a dream come true.
"Inshallah, I will give my 100 per cent to present the best of my skills at these Games.
"For me winning for my country, my family and Dubai Club for People of Determination has been the greatest feeling and hope to continue doing it for many years."
When asked about potential champions from the UAE who can carry his legacy, he added: "There are several youngsters in the UAE team who are doing well and have the potential and passion to win medals for the UAE. The most prominent one is Mohammed Al Hammadi who is a Paralympic and World Championships medallist.
"I am hopeful the UAE will have many more Paralympic medallists in the years to come with the kind of support the athletes receive here from the government and the clubs in UAE."
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