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Interview with the World Silver Medalist Meso Hassouna

Fares Ibrahim Saed Hassouna El-Bakh, also known as Meso Hassouna in the weightlifting world, is an amazing Qatari weightlifter. At the age of 20, he became Junior World Record holder in clean and jerk (225 kg) and total (397 kg). Meso then won the silver medal at the 2019 World Championships.

It is no surprise to see Meso succeed as a weightlifter, considering his family has been weightlifters and athletes their entire lives. His father, Ibrahim Hassouna, is a famous Egyptian athlete who represented Egypt in three Olympics, before coaching Egypt’s national team.

Meso granted Dunes Magazine an interview where he told us a bit about himself, his family, and the challenges he overcame in his sports career. He even shared his favorite author and the dream country he wants to visit.

1. First, tell us what led you to decide to become a weightlifter? Did you go through other kinds of sports before choosing weightlifting?

Since my dad and my brothers were weightlifters, I started weightlifting as well. Around the age of 7 or 8, I started trying other sports because I thought I could do well in them. So, I tried wrestling, boxing, and football. But in every sport I tried, there was something missing, or I didn't enjoy it.

2. Weightlifting is not as popular as other sports like football or tennis. What do you think is the reason?

Weightlifting is not as popular as other sports, mainly because weightlifters are not as social as top athletes in other sports. In fact, it's hard to be a top-level athlete in weightlifting because everything is calculated, including how you sleep and what you eat.

Each weightlifter started in a training camp from the age of nine, and they continue to do that until they are 30 years old. As a result, we don't see the outside world, don't communicate, and don't interact much with other people. There are only a few people we see every day around us. Weightlifters haven't learned how to communicate with people. I think that's why they're not as popular as other athletes.

3. If you could change one thing about the people's perception of this sport, what would it be?

What I would change is to teach the athletes how to work more on the social aspects, to show people weightlifting is a great sport, and weightlifters are not just robots who lift weights. We do more than only lifting weights and we have our own time to do other things we enjoy. I would tell athletes that weightlifting is the oldest sport in the world.

In fact, when athletes from other sports need assistance with their sport, they come to us. In the case of boxing, a guy who feels weak will come to us to do special exercises such as dumbbells and barbells. Some athletes with weak legs will come to us for help with squatting. Athletes always return to weightlifting as it is a part of every sport.

4. Are there any sports other than weightlifting that you believe should be promoted in Qatar?

There are many sports in Qatar that deserve more attention from the locals. These include wrestling, boxing, and gymnastics. There should be more TV coverage of these sports so people can know about them and promote them. There should be more choices available for kids so that they can try different sports and choose what they like.

5. What were the toughest sacrifices you had to make during your sports career?

The sacrifices are all very difficult. You sacrifice time; you sacrifice fun; you sacrifice your childhood. When you're a child, you want to have fun, go to the cinema, the beach, or the museum with your friends. You sacrifice many of those activities.

While my friends were in the cinemas or playing football, I was already in bed or training to get stronger. On the path to becoming a professional athlete, every day and every hour counts. Nevertheless, if I compare what I have accomplished with what I have sacrificed, I have no regrets.

I am now trying many things I hadn't done before. However, I still have to say no to many things. When I consider playing football with my friends, I start thinking I might hurt myself and won't be able to compete again, so I don't. There are limitations to everything you do. I think focus is the most important factor since you have to know what you want to achieve and how you will get there.

6. What's something people don't know about you?

I'm a good cook. I don't think many people know that. One of my favorite dishes is an Arabic one called chicken potato. Sometimes when we gather as a family, I cook, but I lose the competition to my mother, who is an excellent cook. She taught me a lot.

While I can't cook on a daily basis since I usually prepare my meals based on a planned diet, I occasionally go to the kitchen, wear my apron, and create things in the kitchen.

7. What is your morning routine?

I brush my teeth, drink 300 grams of water, and then have a large cup of coffee. That's how I start my day.

8. Do you have any rituals before a competition?

I love to do a ritual that no one knows about. The day before the competition starts, I dress as if it is the day of the competition with every single detail: my outfit, my weightlifting shoes, my belt, etc. As I stand in front of my mirror, I visualize how I will perform my six lifts. I act as if there are a lot of people in front of me, cheering and screaming. One lift is hard while another is easy. Then I start cheering back, saying thank you. Before each and every competition, I have to do this ritual every night before I go to bed.

Visualization is extremely powerful. Avoid negative thoughts. Don't let them invade your mind. If you think ‘I am going to lose tomorrow,’ or ‘I might lose tomorrow,’ then you will lose. In contrast, if you behave like you are going to win—like you are the best in the competition—and if you consider what you are going to do after you win, you will be more relaxed and you will win. I heard this quote and I love it: "If you see it in your head, you can catch it with your hand."

9. What has been your most memorable vacation?

I had a great time on the Caribbean island of Aruba. This was my favorite vacation so far. I prefer spending my time on the beach or by the sea since I'm not a city person. The place was sunny and beautiful in December. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the people.

My friend invited me to go with him. This is usually where he goes to train or vacation. Since I had 10 days off, I went with him.

10. What is your dream country to visit?

Mexico and Switzerland are on my bucket list. I want to visit them both. I want to go skiing in Switzerland in winter so I can enjoy the feeling of real winter. In Qatar, it never gets very cold. On the other hand, everyone who has been to Mexico loves it, so I want to go there too.

11. What is the best piece of advice you've ever received?

It is from my father, who said: “Life isn't easy, but if you work hard, you'll get there, and those who reach the top will become famous, they will be heroes.”

You don't have to believe in miracles, as all people are just humans. Only those at the top made something you haven't yet made. You're going do it, no matter how hard it is or how big the chance may be. It’s easy to lose the motivation to do anything if you don't do it from your heart.

12. What is it that makes you feel accomplished?

My sports achievements for myself, my country, and for sports in general. Knowing that I helped someone achieve their goals makes me feel accomplished.

Giving help or advice to someone around me makes me feel accomplished as well. I wish to make a difference in this world, no matter how big or small. And I will keep trying.

13. Do you think being an athlete inspires you to do good? What will your legacy be?

Sports bring people together. As an athlete who competes on a global level, you get to meet more people. You meet athletes from different generations that you admire. As new athletes come to us for advice, they look up to us as we look up to them. Sports' true beauty lies in our ability to help others and share experiences. Sharing a love of sports from generation to generation is a great way to influence the community.

My legacy will be teaching people how to smile, how to enjoy sports, and how to love them. At the competition, we are not fighting; we are just having fun, doing what we love.

After winning the Olympics, I met a lot of kids who wanted to join my sport. It's a wonderful feeling. I haven't seen kids from the younger generation in Qatar interested in my weightlifting before. As a weightlifter, I'd like to contribute to the building of a new generation of athletes who share the values of our sport. They need to be open-minded, social, and open to the world—not the old-school way.

14. Who is your favorite sports hero?

My dad is my favorite athlete. I am working on a book about my father and our relationship. I remember when we first started talking together about weightlifting. It was 2011 or 2012; I used to be really skinny, 62 kg. He said: “Meso, I will train you, and you will be at the Olympic Games."

At first, I was skeptical, but I tried it. Since then, we have been working together. The way he always supported me when I was feeling puzzled why I was doing it. He was always there for me, pushing me, and encouraging me. I have always been a good kid. I always followed the routine.

15. Finally, you mentioned Fyodor Dostoevsky in an interview. Which book of the writer is your favorite?

In general, I love reading. I love to spend my time reading a good book. I read many of Fyodor Dostoevsky's books after seeing a quote from one of his books and falling in love with it. Books that teach you to think, where the author makes you feel as if you are inside the book, and the events are unfolding in front of you, are my favorite.

#WorldSilverMedalist #MesoHassouna


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