Teenager Al-Maliki heads to Dubai 2014 with Rio in mind

At just the age of 16 Zahraa Al-Maliki impressed at the 2013 IPC Powerlifting Asian Open Championships with a gold and new Asian senior and juniors record lift. 04 Feb 2014 By Luke Jackson | For the IPC

“The support I get off the NPC is endless concerning nutrition, sport equipment, and all other kinds of aspects related to training and performing."

With the 2014 IPC Powerlifting World Championships in Dubai only a matter of months away, athletes from all around the globe are adding the final touches to their preparations as they embark to the Middle East.

One athlete who will be making the small journey across the Persian Gulf to compete at the Worlds is the Iraqi powerlifter, Zahraa Al-Maliki.

At the tender age of 16, Al-Maliki marked her arrival on the international powerlifting scene by galvanising her way to a gold medal in the women’s up to 50kg category at the 2013 IPC Powerlifting Asian Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

En route to pulling off this remarkable achievement, Al-Maliki also set a new Asian senior and juniors record of 71kg which has helped situate her as one of the medal favourites going in to the World Championships.

What makes this accomplishment all the more impressive is the fact she only took to the sport at the age of 13.

She said: “I got involved with powerlifting after I was encouraged by my colleague, Mustafa Salman, who I train with now.

“She was a member of the Iraqi National Youth Powerlifting Team in 2009 when I was 13 years old, so she was someone who I looked up to a lot.

“I then chose powerlifting as a sport that I wanted to pursue a career in after the encouragement and support I received from my coach, Intranik Dikris.

“I especially started to enjoy this sport after I joined up with fellow female powerlifters in training.”

In powerlifting, Iraq has somewhat fallen behind their neighbouring countries in recent years as Iran and Egypt have produced dominant athletes such as Siamand Rahman and Mohamed Eldib, whilst the majority of Iraqi powerlifters have struggled to medal at major competitions.

Therefore, Al-Maliki’s recent success at the 2013 Asian Championships has created a new sense of enthusiasm amongst the Iraqi powerlifting faithful and she is grateful to her country’s National Paralympic Committee (NPC) for their backing.

She said: “The support I get off the NPC is endless concerning nutrition, sport equipment, and all other kinds of aspects related to training and performing.

“We have powerlifting facilities that can be used by disabled athletes and there are some new facilities that are being built.

“I am so proud and happy to represent my country at such a high level.

“Lifting a new Asian junior and senior record to win gold honoured my coaches and knowing this made me so proud.”

As the dust has completely settled on the London 2012 Paralympic Games, all eyes are now on the upcoming Rio 2016 Paralympics.

The World Championships in Dubai offer a platform on which successful powerlifters can secure their places at Rio 2016. For this reason, the competition will undoubtedly be fierce as there are more than medals at stake.

On the potential of qualifying for the next Paralympics Al-Maliki added: “After my success in Malaysia, I am now looking to participate in all of the important championships.

“Especially the Paralympic Games in Rio, which I am hoping to qualify for through Dubai.”

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is attempting to oust drug cheats out of Paralympic sport and last year it launched the Raise the Bar – Say No! To Doping campaign to help educate athletes and teams about anti-doping.

For years, performance enhancing drugs have proved to be an issue in explosive sports, and that is not excluding powerlifting.

Last summer, it was revealed that four powerlifters – Nigeria’s Ivory Nwokorie, Iraq’s Huda Ali and two Moldovan athletes Stefan Rosca and Verginiu Arapu – committed anti-doping violations.

In response to this shocking news, all four were suspended for two years and received 1,500 euro’s apiece.

Therefore, the IPC is planning on intensifying the Raise the Bar campaign throughout 2014 to help eradicate this issue entirely.

Al-Maliki fully supports this initiative and she has encouraged her fellow powerlifters to avoid doping at all costs.

She said: “I advise everyone to stay away from doping, never be conceited about achievements, and keep to training and listening to their coach’s instructions.”