Athens 2004

Iran marks its presence at the Olympics while Athens crowns Reza Zadeh Strongest Man in the World
Iran's Alireza Heidari here on Sunday won the bronze medal in the
Olympic 96kg freestyle wrestling bout by beating Daniel Cormier from
the US 3-2 in overtime. Heidari who was behind 2-0 upto the seventh
minutes into the match after losing two controversial points to
Cormier, succeeded in overturning the result 3-2 in the end.

The multiple world medalist Heidari had earlier in the day lost to
Magomed Ibragimov from Uzbekistan in a controversial semifinal
match where the referee awarded three unfair points to help the
Uzbek outpoint Iran's gold-medal hopeful by a final score of 6-4.

Heidari on Saturday brought hope to Iran camp by winning the
undisputed world's freestyle wrestling champion Eldar Kurtanidze
from Georgia 3-2 in overtime of an opening thriller.

Kurtanidze had defeated Heidari at 2000 Sydney Olympics games,
winning the bronze medal. He had also beat Heidari in two world
finals in 2002 and 2003 in Tehran and New York.
However, Iran's world judo
champion Arash Miresmaeili
refused to compete against an
Israeli yesterday, triggering a
fresh crisis at the Olympic
Games where race, creed or
colour are barred from
interfering in sport.
The International Judo
Federation (IJF) failed to agree
how to deal with the politically
explosive issue at an
emergency meeting and said it
would hold further talks today.
Miresmaeili was quoted by Iran's official
news agency Irna as saying he "refused
to face my Israeli rival in sympathy with
the oppressed Palestinian people",
adding: "I am not upset about the
decision I have made."
Islamic Republic of Iran                                                       Total.: 6 Medals

Event                                                                                                     Participant

Gold
TaekWondo - Men's Under 68kg                                                    SAEID BONEHKOHAL, Hadi
Weightlifling - Men's +105kg                                                            REZA ZADEH, Hossein

Silver
Wrestling - Men's Freestyle 60kg                                                    JOKAR, Masuod
Wrestling - Men's Freestyle 120kg                                                  REZAEI, Alirereza

Bronze
TaekWondo - Men's Under 80kg                                                     KARAMI, Yossef
Wrestling - Men's Freestyle 96kg                                                    HEIDARI, Alireza
Cultural Pride: the Hercules from Ardebil
ATHENS, Greece -- The planet's strongest man made his case, resoundingly, again last
night.

Impressive as his world-record numbers were, they don't convey just how strong Hossein
Reza Zadeh -- perhaps the most unbeatable athlete at these Olympics -- really is.

Without lifting a finger or a 1958 Buick Bulgemobile, the man is not only able to twist the
minds of opponents, he's able to bend the will of governments.

The devout Muslim from Iran also has an answer for the scourge of doping that plagues
his sport.
"Our religion forbids doping," he said. Well, there we have it: If the International Olympic
Committee just converts the world to Islam, we can just toss away those specimen cups
(duck!), although let's hold off until we run a check on the religions that do condone doping.

Returning from the spiritual to the physical, Reza Zadeh is a sight. Burly describes him the
way serene describes Robin Williams. The guy has muscles that bend radio waves and a
belly that in America would be a Costco store.

At 6 feet 1 and 353 pounds, Reza Zadeh is the Persian version of Vasily Alexeev, the
famous lifter of the 1970s whose strength, eyebrows and abdomen became the fearsome
symbol of the growly Soviet empire.

"Alexeev was a pretty good intimidator," said Leo Totten, the team leader for U.S.
weightlifting. "He got into guys' heads. And if it makes you just a little bit tentative, he's won.
Hossein's got the same thing going."

In dominating the biggest class, the super-heavyweights (231 pounds and over), he beat
by nearly 40 pounds the runner-up, Viktors Scerbatihs of Latvia, and bronze medalist
Velicho Cholakov of Bulgaria. Reza Zadeh toyed with his foes, waiting for them to wobble
and break before marching dramatically upon the stage at Nikaia Weightlifting Hall and
making like he was raising a window shade.

Oklahoman Shane Hamman, himself a fairly stout 5 feet 9 and 350 pounds, set an
American record but finished seventh, mostly behind Eastern Europe.

"He's the strongest guy I've ever seen -- very impressive," Hamman said of Reza Zadeh.
"Yes, he's intimidating."
That makes him a guy most folks want on their side. Especially the Turks, who are big into
this sort of thing. Word in Middle Eastern weightlifting circles (forgive me if I'm covering
familiar ground here) was that Turkey was so eager to have "Iranian Hercules" in its colors
for the 2004 Games that they offered him a villa, a $20,000-a-month salary and a $10
million signing bonus.

Apparently because Iran topped the deal, he said no. All Iran confirms is that in May 2003,
President Mohammed Khatani gave him more than $70,000 for a home in Tehran, named
two state bank branches after him, offered waterfront real estate on a Persian gulf island
and named him "Champion of Champions."

While it's not exactly Alex Rodriguez money, neither are Tom Hicks and George
Steinbrenner fundamentalist Muslim states. Goes to show you that American professional
and college sports are not unique in their zaniness over superstar athletes.

Much like fans in America, Iranian fans like to believe that Reza Zadeh spurned the offer
because he was so loyal to his slavish constituents, several hundred of whom were
gyrating in the hall.

"He could not walk down the street (in Iran), he is so adored, like Michael Jordan," said a
young fan, Amir Izadi of Tehran. "By denying the Turks, they adore him more."

Added Arash Zamayeri, who moved to Sweden years ago but remains an Iranian loyalist:
"Money's not that important to him. He's not like the Bulgarian lifters who sell themselves
to Qatar." (I'd explain that last remark, but you weightlifting fantasy-leaguers back in the
Northwest already have picked it off the Internet).

At 26, Reza Zadeh is not even in his prime but already has been named lifter of the year in
2000 and 2002 by the International Weightlifting Federation. Last night's triumphal feat, in
which he hoisted 1,042 pounds from a combined lift in the snatch (463 pounds) and clean
and jerk (579, another world record), gave him a second consecutive Olympic gold medal
-- a first in Iranian sports history.

"I thought it was a good performance -- I came in full of strength," he said through a halting
interpretation. "An Olympic medal is a precious thing to acquire for our country."

Indeed, it was the first for Iran in these Games, after four medals in Sydney. He
acknowledged his followers' delirium in the half-filled amphitheater, pointing to them,
kissing his upraised singlet and bowing in three directions after the win. Then he knelt
face down, prayer-like, for a few moments.

"Allah helped me," he said. So far as is known, there is no drug test for that.

At least nine weightlifters have tested positive for banned goods. All have been thrown out
of the Games. So have two other track gold medalists.

Casualties have piled up among the large folk, but Reza Zadeh seemed to rise above the
tawdry.

"Weightlifting is an ancient sport -- its roots go back in time," he said. "It is up to the
athletes to compete properly and fairly. If there are doping cases, actions should be taken."

If Reza Zadeh is busted, there is a small chance that Iran might close up shop, too,
figuring the Great Satan has corrupted its best. But he has been so unswervingly good for
five years he at least has won over his peers.

"He is what he is -- unbeatable," said Scerbatihs, the silver medalist. "I don't think anyone
here had a chance to overtake him."

The Turks, however, might make a run at him again. Perhaps next time they won't make
the mistake of asking him to play third base.
120 kg freestyle wrestler Alireza Rezaei was pinned
in the final to win the silver medal of the 28th
Olympic Games in Athens on Saturday night.
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