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After a torturous journey that included sleeping on the streets and the contemplation of committing suicide, former refugee Cyrille Tchatchet’s dream of winning a Commonwealth Games medal for England was ended by his entire body cramping.
It had been eight years since Tchatchet last competed at these Games, then in the colours of his native Cameroon before he sneaked away from Glasgow 2014 with just a pair of shoes and a weightlifting belt to his name.
So began the long process of Tchatchet’s path to UK nationality, with his application for asylum approved in 2016 and full citizenship only approved at the start of this year.
That final step allowed the 27-year-old to compete for England in Birmingham – the city he has made his home – but there was no happy ending as cramps struck right from the start of the men’s 96kg final.
Tchatchet still managed to snatch 158kg to leave him in the silver medal position at the halfway point, but he collapsed after his first clean and jerk attempt and two more failures prevented him registering a final total.
“The first time he went to the bar he started cramping,” said England’s weightlifting team leader Stuart Martin, with Tchatchet backstage and too distraught to talk to waiting reporters.
“He drunk some soda water, had some sugary sweets, and we tried to help him massage the mouth.
“We relaxed him the best we could and put him in the most comfortable position possible, but the same thing happened again with the next two snatches and you saw the rest.
“I’ve never seen anybody go out there with the whole body cramped and clean 158 kilos – and I hope I never will again.”
When Tchatchet left his hotel room in Glasgow eight years ago because of the fears he had over his safety were he to return to Cameroon, his future looked bleak.
He slept rough, suffered from depression, and headed to a notorious suicide spot in south-east England where he was “sure” he would have jumped had he not seen a sign for the Samaritans.
🏥 British mental health nurse.🏋️♂️ @TeamEngland weightlifter.💙 Former refugee.
— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) August 2, 2022
After being arrested and initially taken to an immigration removal centre, he has managed to build a life in Birmingham where he works as a senior mental health practitioner at an NHS facility.
It is this fortitude, Martin believes, that will allow Tchatchet – who finished 10th at the Tokyo Olympics last year when representing the Refugee Team – to recover from this blow.
He said: “What Cyrille has gone through since he arrived in the UK has been terrible. Any refugee will tell you it’s a lengthy process and requires a lot of patience.
“For him to miss out on a silver medal looking at that board (at halfway) is absolutely gutting.
Congratulations to Debbie Alawode who has just stepped off the platform at the Commonwealth Games in the women’s 76kg category for England.
Snatches: 90, 93, 96xClean and jerk: 114, 119x, 119
This gave Deborah an immense 212kg total, putting her in 4th place.
Well done! pic.twitter.com/VZ55EgqutX
— BritishWeightLifting (@GBWeightLifting) August 2, 2022
“But we’ve been absolutely privileged to have him as part of this team.
“He’s as much of an Englishman as anyone else on this team, and maybe in Victoria in four years’ time he will get opportunity to win the medal that he wanted today.”
Samoa’s Don Opelege dominated the event to win gold with a new Games record total of 381kg, while India’s Vikas Thakur took silver and Fiji’s Taniela Ranibogi bronze.
England’s Deborah Alawode earlier finished fourth in the women’s 76kg final won by Canada’s Maya Laylor. Nigeria’s Taiwo Liadi and Nauru’s Maximina Uepa claimed silver and bronze.