RIGA (Reuters) - Bursting out of his suit and barely fitting into a chair in Latvia’s parliament, weightlifter Viktors Scerbatihs is a most distinctive politician.
After winning an Olympic silver medal in 2004, super-heavyweight Scerbatihs aims to go one better in Beijing and earn the title of “the world’s strongest man.”
“I have wanted to win an Olympic gold since I was 21,” he told Reuters in the foyer of Latvia’s parliament where he has been a deputy since an election in October 2006.
“I’m not going to say that this is my last chance. Life will go on after the Olympics.”
The 33-year-old dwarfs his peers in parliament which has given him permission to skip most sessions so that he can prepare for the Games in August.
When he moves his arms, Scerbatihs looks as though he could burst through the seams of his suit like the Incredible Hulk. His parliamentary colleagues who pass through the foyer wish him the best of luck in Beijing.
Scerbatihs has won the European championship five times and is world champion in the sport’s heaviest division, where lifters weigh more than 105 kgs.
Winning an Olympic gold could require a personal best. “I think a total of 470 kg is needed for winning this year,” he said.
At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Scerbatihs won silver with a combined weight of 455 kg, just 10 kg short of his personal best.
His chances of winning Latvia’s second Olympic gold depend a great deal on the fitness of Hossein Rezazadeh who won the gold in Athens with a world record-equaling lift of 472.5 kgs.
The ‘Iranian Hercules’, who also won gold in Sydney in 2000, injured his knee last year in a car accident and has not competed internationally since. He missed the Asian championships in May although an Iranian federation spokesman said then that Rezazadeh would definitely compete in Beijing.
In his absence, Scerbatihs topped the 2007 rankings ahead of Russia’s Evgeny Chigishev and Velichko Cholakov of Bulgaria who won the bronze in Athens.
Scerbatihs trains almost every day of the week. Most of the rest of his time is dedicated to building up his weight.
“I basically only eat, sleep and train. At the moment I weigh 144 kg so I eat a lot of whatever I want.”
While training, Scerbatihs lives in the port town of Ventspils on Latvia’s west coast but normally he lives with his mother in the small town of Dobele.
Latvia was still in the Soviet Union when Scerbatihs first managed to hoist 100 kg over his head at the age of 14. His country quit the former Soviet Union in 1991 and joined the EU in 2004.
“After we became independent it was hard to train. There was no money for sport. Now the situation is better.
“Now there are sponsors and also state programmes, which help athletes with support to train and so on,” he said. Latvia’s only Olympic gold was won by Igors Vihrovs in gymnastics in 2000.
Scerbatihs’s struggle to reach the top in a nation where state funds were hard to come by took him into politics as a member of the Greens and Farmers Union.
“Only as a politician can I really help other weightlifters but not only weightlifters, also athletes in other sports of course.
“My heart is with sports but as a politician I can help push through laws that will secure the future of Latvian sports and athletes.”
Weightlifting has suffered repeated doping scandals and Scerbatihs takes great care to avoid banned substances.
“Some (athletes) eat meat containing the same things the general public eats. But, for us, it could mean that it could be something we’re not allowed to use.
“I know many athletes get caught because of the food they eat and this is why my mother prepares my food.”
Editing by Robert Woodward