The path to glory for Suhail al Kulaibi, Oman’s first weightlifter to win gold at the Arab Games in Doha in December 2011 has not been easy. The daily walk of nearly 10km to reach the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex gymnasium for training from his house in Muscat, capital of Sultanate of Oman, are still afresh in his memories for the 28 year old.
“My love affair with the sport began in 1999 when I used to accompany my brother to the stadium for his training sessions. I was thin boy with a weight of 45kg those days. But I picked up the sport quickly as I found a good mentor and coach in Rushdie Wahba, an Egyptian, who had come to Oman as a physical fitness trainer,” remembered Suhail.
“I started with powerlifting but soon moved to weightlifting and in 2002 I got my first breakthrough with the national team when I participated at the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) championships. [The competition features players from six GCC nations- Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait]. I picked up six medals, which included two silver and bronze medals in junior and senior 56kg category,” said Suhail.
However, it was the performance (one silver and two bronze) in Arab weightlifting championships in Syria 2003 that made the Oman weightlifting committee take note of him and he was provided an official transport for training. Till then it was walking or hitch hiking on friend’s car to attend training.
The lifter, who now works in Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO), owes a lot of his success to Rushdie Wahba, who left Oman in 2009. “He was my guide, coach and a friend. I learned a lot from him not only in the sport but also how to lead a disciplined life,” Suhail said.
With a large family to support, Suhail skipped a government scholarship offer to go to college and picked up a job in 2006 before moving to RAFO in 2008.
The lifter continued to climb up the ladder of success and won three gold medals at the Arab championships in Jordan (2009) and GCC championships in Bahrain (2010).
A delay in nominating him from Oman for the world championships in France last year deprived him a platform to showcase his potential at the world stage but he turned the disappointment into joy when he claimed the first gold medal for Oman at the Arab Games in weightlifting.
Suhail credits his recent success to coach Hossein Tavakkoli. The Iranian, who won gold in the men’s 105kg class at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, has been training Oman’s weightlifters over the last three months. “He is a true professional. He is an experienced lifter and also understands us well. He motivates us a lot and has helped us set new personal and national records. When I lifted the weights in Doha to win the gold in clean and jerk (133kg) and snatch (110), I myself couldn’t believe but the coach had faith in me. I am now aiming to qualify for the London Olympics,” he said.
Suhail hopes to take part in the Asian championships in South Korea in March and achieve the mark to be on board for London. “We are training daily six hours and I hope to make it to London. My aim is to achieve a medal at Asian and world championships and if backed properly and given the needed exposure, I believe I can do it.”
In his leisure time, Suhail, who is married and has two daughters, relaxes by going for a swim or reading books.
Ashok Purohit, Sports Editor, Muscat Daily