Giant on the move
Snapshot Beijing, 2: Matthias Steiner
Continuing our look at the golden moments from the Games, Sophie Hardach tells us what it was like watching the heart-wrenching story of weightlifter Matthias Steiner unfold.
After covering 14 Olympic weightlifting competitions, I sat down for the super-heavyweight contest knowing that it would be the most spectacular of them all. In the previous contests, I had seen hulking strongmen in tears, had watched lifters crash to the floor under the barbell, had heard caveman howls and primal screams.
Now all that macho breast-beating would reach a climax, with 150kg-contenders trying to snatch more than 200kg. What I did not expect to see in that testosterone-filled competition hall was a moment of heart-breaking tenderness.
I had heard the story of 25-year-old German lifter Matthias Steiner, whose wife, Susann, died after a car crash last year, and my heart went out to him as I watched him fail not just one but two attempts.
I had read that he carried a photo of Susann with him at every competition, and had promised her in hospital that he would make their joint Olympic dream come true. But after the snatch and another failed attempt in the clean and jerk, it looked as if he would not even win a medal.
I wrote up a short story just in case, thinking that his moving story might interest my editors even if he ended up fourth or fifth. Then I gave the editing desk a heads-up on the likely ranking: Russian Evgeny Chigishev gold, Latvian Viktors Scerbatihs silver … and maybe, just maybe, bronze for my own country, Germany.
Suddenly, Steiner raised his weight by 10kg. Weightlifters usually move up in steps of 2kg, sometimes 4kg or 6kg. After two failed attempts, this looked like a desperate lunge for a medal by a man who was clearly unable to lift the targeted weight. I was sure he would fail, and yet, as he lifted the barbell, I found myself forgetting my journalistic impartiality, thinking only: come on, you can do it, pleeease…
He did it. Groaning and yelling, he lifted 258kg, his personal best. “Matthias Steiner gold, Chigishev silver, Scerbatihs bronze,” I shouted into my phone. I then hugged the bewildered Reuters colleague next to me before furiously typing up the story.
I only looked up again when the German anthem played. Steiner was standing on the podium, a bear of a man choking back the tears, clutching a bouquet and his medal. Then someone handed him another object.
He held it up and kissed it, a look of incredible pain mixed with happiness on his face. I gasped when I recognised what it was — a photo of a young, pretty blonde with a carefree smile. Susann.
More to follow over the course of the day.
PHOTO: Matthias Steiner of Germany holds a photo of his late wife Susann as he poses with his gold medal in the men’s +105kg Group A weightlifting competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 19, 2008. REUTERS/Alvin Chan