The Iranian Powerlifter: Looking Back at Rahman’s Life and Amazing Record
August 31, 2020. Had the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games been held as planned, a new legend would have been born this day at the powerlifting venue. Siamand Rahman, the Iranian powerlifter known as the world’s most powerful Paralympian, had been scheduled to compete in the men’s over-107-kilogram class.
However, half a year earlier, on March 1, Rahman passed away due to cardiac arrest. His past achievements include winning gold medals in the heaviest weight class at both the London 2012 Paralympic Games and the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. In 2017, he also won the Best Male Paralympic Sport Award, which is presented to the most outstanding male Paralympic athlete. At Tokyo 2020, Rahman would have been 32 years old and a gold medal contender. Many were also speculating whether he would be able to overwrite his own world record of lifting 310 kilograms. Today, we look back on the superstar of the parasports world, his athletic career and the sincere kindness he showed when he visited Japan.
Rahman posing with a rose during his visit to Japan photo by X-1
Rise to Glory with a Top Team
Rahman was born with an impairment in his legs due to congenital acute poliomyelitis. As a student, he was a member of a bodybuilding gym and participated in a bench press tournament. This opened the door to his career in powerlifting.
While visiting Japan in 2017, Rahman described the allure of para powerlifting: “Since we only use our upper bodies, it’s more difficult than bench presses for able-bodied athletes. So that makes it more interesting.”
Rahman’s career began in 2008. At 19 years old, he entered the IWAS Junior World Games and won gold. The I.R. Iran National Paralympic Committee was quick to take note of Rahman’s exceptional talent and formed Team Rahman. This special team of eight experts included a nutritionist, masseur, therapist, psychologist, physician and coach to support the athlete. They even built an exclusive training room for Rahman at a camp to train leading powerlifters in Iran.
Siamand Rahman was considered the most powerful Paralympian photo by X-1
“When I lifted 120 kilograms at my first tournament, the people there said to me, ‘You have the potential to become a great athlete.’ So they set up a training room at my house and I began to train. But the national coach usually prepares the training plan for me. We have a special method for training in Iran and I just do what they tell me to.”
This training method was kept secret. When asked about how he built his physique, all Rahman said was, “I just eat a little more of different things when I’m at training camp.” Nevertheless, he demonstrated incredible concentration during his lifts, revealing strong mental fortitude.
“I’m really easy-going though, so I don’t need mental training. My psychologist tells me things like to concentrate without being distracted by the people watching and to not just lift the barbell but also mentally visualize the motion of lifting it up. So I do those sorts of mental training. When I broke the world record at Rio 2016, I think the key to success was just doing things the way I always do.”
Rahman usually trained three times a week. His training plan was structured over four years in preparation for the Paralympic Games. During the year leading up to the Games, he spent half of it at a training camp for intensive training.
Rahman lifting at London 2012 where he won the gold medal photo by Getty Images Sport
At London 2012, Rahman set a new Paralympic record by lifting 280 kilograms. He won the gold medal in the men’s over-100-kilogram class and made his name known throughout the world.
“At London 2012, I remember winning the gold medal, taking a doping test and then immediately calling my parents after that. I’m so truly grateful to my parents who raised me.”
This achievement made Rahman a top national athlete, considered to be Iran’s greatest treasure. He recounted the surprise waiting for him when he returned from London, saying, “There was a 70-kilometer traffic jam from the airport all the way to my hometown. I was stunned.”
Rahman’s Aspirations for Tokyo 2020 That He Spoke of During His Lifetime
Rahman went on to overwrite the world record by lifting 285 kilograms at the 2014 IPC Powerlifting World Championships, 295 kilograms at the 2015 IPC Powerlifting Asia Open Championships and 296 kilograms at the 2016 IPC Powerlifting World Cup. Then at Rio 2016, when he was 28 years old, he once again set a new world record by lifting 310 kilograms. Over three years between 2014 and 2016, Rahman set nine new world records. Through his achievements, he continued to demonstrate the power of a para-athlete who strived to transcend human limits.
Rahman wearing the gold medal at Rio 2016 photo by Getty Images Sport
Above all, the 310-kilogram record that Rahman set in September 2016 at the Rio Paralympic Games broke the one set by able-bodied athletes under mostly identical conditions. This achievement made Rahman the strongest man in the world and he received praise from all over.
To Rahman, being the world’s strongest was a title he was proud of. “My coach chooses which weight I attempt. To me, winning the gold medal is more important than breaking the record.” Nevertheless, he went on to say, “I’ll keep working hard and be careful not to get injured. I want to lift more than 320 kilograms at Tokyo 2020.” His goal was to eventually lift 350 kilograms.
Rahman pumping his fist in joy after setting a new world record! photo by Getty Images Sport
Furthermore, in 2018, he said, “I hope the fantastic organizers of the Tokyo Paralympic Games will make it a great success. I’ll do my best to perform well and win the gold medal.”
A Paralympian with a Big Heart
“Siamand was a pioneer for his sport, an inspiration for many in his home country, Iran, and around the world, and a fantastic ambassador for the Paralympic movement. He was also a wonderful human being.”
So said Andrew Parsons, President of the International Paralympic Committee, in his eulogy for the late athlete. He spoke for many whose hearts were captured by the sweet smile of the gentle giant weighing over 170 kilograms.
Giving the cameraman a charming wink photo by X-1
In 2017, Rahman visited the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center during a summer holiday event for children and parents. He said, “Everyone on the Iranian team is working hard to win the gold medal, so I hope you all look forward to the Games.” With his big hands, he gave out lapel pins to the children from the Iranian team and happily took photos with them.
When Rahman participated in the Asia-Oceania Open Championships held in Kitakyushu City, Fukuoka in 2018, he likewise wore a bright smile as he gave out lapel pins to members of the media in the mixed zone. Several women also asked to shake hands, and while he looked a little flustered, he was happy to do so.
Rahman won the Asia-Oceania Open Championships by lifting over 40 kilograms more than the contestant who came in second place
The untimely passing of the world’s strongest man and such a gentle being saddened many people. I.R. Iran National Paralympic Committee still remembers Rahman by posting photos of him on social media.
When Rahman lay down on the bench press, the sound of him drawing in a deep breath was audible. In that moment, he captivated the entire audience. He would then exert instantaneous, intense concentration and lift with unimaginable power. While we can no longer see Rahman’s awe-inspiring performance, his legendary achievements will surely go down in the history of the Paralympics.
text by Asuka Senaga
key visual X-1