The Indian hand behind the “English” weightlifter

Cyrille Tchatchet has never been sullen in his usual week-long silences after disagreements with Gyan Singh Cheema, the weightlifting coach, who had taken him in and offered to help him in the sport he had chosen in Birmingham. Stoic, yes. “He always dressed well, had a strong mind and expressed his opinions, and if we debated he would be silent for a week and then come back and say ‘maybe, ok, let’s try. He never forgot to be a proud sportsman who loves weightlifting deeply no matter how bad his situation was,” Cheema recalled of the curious boy who walked into his Warley weightlifting club in Smethwick near Bromwich. , one night.

Dire was just beginning to describe this unique situation, and Cheema, himself an immigrant to Birmingham in the 80s, points out that he could not have remained so calm through the tumult.

At 19, Tchatchet came to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow as a representative of Cameroon. And never returned home. He slept under a bridge for some time, often contemplated suicide, he said in the past, and was persuaded to call the suicide hotline by some local Samaritans. The police intervened after his appeal, his suicidal thoughts were curbed and custody launched his asylum case, even though it would take him another two years to be legally allowed to stay in the country. Tchatchet will also pursue studies to become a mental health nurse.

Cheema says he knows of many developing countries who have chosen to disappear to Western countries under the guise of sports, living the uncertain life of a refugee before processing asylum formalities. And forget the sport along the way. Tchatchet has not forgotten.

He found himself moving from Glasgow to Birmingham after difficult times with the authorities who tried to deport him on several occasions. “But he knew the way and his rights in the UK. He remained patient. What surprised me was that he didn’t give up the sport.

Eight years later, Cyrille Tchatchet will represent England at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. And could well fight for bronze in the 96kg category, against Indian Vikas Thakur, a weightlifter whom Cheema has been coaching on competition techniques for the past few days here.

Tchatchet wants more, warns Cheema, a former Asian Games medalist based in Birmingham, with a laugh, adding that he is torn because “the heart is with India. But my boys both.

Gian Singh Cheema, a former Asian bronze medalist in weightlifting at the 1982 Delhi Games, says he knows many developing countries who have chosen to disappear to Western countries under the guise of sports, living the uncertain life of a refugee before processing the asylum formalities. (Express photo)

Tchatchet’s journey to don England colors has been ruthless in a way that makes the mere act of pulling a very heavy bar over his head seem quite ordinary. “The accommodation for the refugees was not great. Just a small room, not sure how good the food was and if he even ate every day. A lot of times we would walk him to the station, and all the guys would take fish and chips with him, knowing he hadn’t eaten,” Cheema recalled.

The teenager had entered after being told at the University of Birmingham, where he was enrolled, that Warley was the best gym for serious lifters around. He had found good legal aid and a helpful lawyer who guided him well. “Can you imagine finding yourself fighting for the right to live in a country and succeeding in sport? It takes a strong heart,” Cheema says of Tchatchet’s 4 years at his establishment.

When he graduated from Middlesex University, Cheema helped him find accommodation in London using his network of weightlifters, although it was the least he could do for a young man he saw value in. potential. “You could see he wanted to play sports. Dedicated, technically strong. But he continued to lift the best in every class and won the UK U23s. They didn’t give him the title though, but took it away after the ceremony because he didn’t have a passport. It hurt him, but he stayed on the straight and narrow.

“Another athlete from Cameroon had also stayed. He chose shortcuts and married a local girl, but faced many problems. And he never managed to stay in the sport after the first Derby competitions. Cyrille stayed,” he says. The threats of eviction made his life difficult, but he found a stable totem at the Warley club. “Sport kept him going, kept him busy and competition and winning paved the way for him, even though the sports authorities didn’t really help him at first.”

Always sure of himself, clear about how he would apply for citizenship, Tchatchet confidently pursued the sport, putting all his viscous attention into literally lifting the heavy weight of existence. He kept trying to get his mother here, but failed attempts wouldn’t bog him down. “He would talk about his problems and how the odds of ethnic minorities were against him, but his shoulders never let up,” Cheema recalls, as two uncles from France were the only family he met for two years.

The proverbial light tunnel passed through neon signs of takeaways he couldn’t always afford in his refugee allowance. The debates over technique with Cheema, a veteran of the sport, got interesting. “I like young athletes with strong opinions. Cyrille has never been a “yes sir”. If he didn’t agree, he’d say “you’re distracting me, man,” then he’d shut up for a week before realizing it and coming back. He was quite educated and intelligent. Great attitude,” says Cheema. Tchatchet’s short pull-ups, as he was very fast under the bar, often caused a tight shoulder or knee injury, and Cheema continued to extend his arms further. “Those disagreements about sport told me he cared about his sport.”

“For me, helping a star to shine in the dark was very satisfying. We sportspeople love guiding winners.

In Cheema’s private training room at the Council Recreation Center, the old dean handed her the keys to training any time of the day. “We are removing all barriers for elite athletes. He showed that he wanted to be part of the elite.

Cheema however advised him on the basics as a father figure. “Get your degree, get a job, I’ll tell him.” I told him he had to get through this struggle, it’s not going to be easy.

Tchatchet would be one step closer to the passport by 2020, and the International Weightlifting Federation would introduce him to the refugee squad for the Tokyo Olympics, with his university and federation Team GB taking charge of his training. “We parted ways, but I can say he made his best lifting improvements under me,” Cheema says. “Now that’s a big name.”

Cheema, who regrets never winning from Arjuna, and has been helping Indian lifting teams since 2014 prepare CWG by offering his base to acclimatize, says just thinking back to Tchatchet’s struggle wears him out. “I’m an old man now and winning Indians gives me joy. But this boy should be hailed. In this situation, anyone would think – to earn bread to eat and a place to live. Sport would be the last thing on anyone’s mind. Not Cyrille Tchatchet. The boy stayed.