Joya Khairallah and Etienne el-Chaer have set world records at the 2023 World Powerlifting Championships, held Aug. 24-Sept. 3 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Both athletes competed in the the junior class.
Khairallah, aged 22, from Rechmaya, deadlifted 183.5 kg, resulting in a total lifted weight of 428.5 kg, including a 147.5 kg squat and a 97.5 kg bench press — equivalent to eight times her body weight of 51.62 kg.
The 24-year-old Chaer, from Jbeil, emerged victorious by breaking not one but two junior world records. His deadlift of 378.5 kg, combined with a 330 kg squat and a 217.5 kg bench press, added up to a total of 926 kg lifted across the three stages.
"I couldn't afford to miss it," Chaer remarked, underscoring his dedication and preparation.
For Khairallah, participating in the world championship was a significant achievement, given the challenging circumstances facing athletes in Lebanon.
Their accomplishments were observed by Shiva Karout, a seasoned powerlifter and coach who provided guidance for both athletes.
While powerlifting is gaining popularity across Lebanon, it remains less recognized compared to other sports, but athletes like Khairallah and Chaer are making strides and challenging stereotypes.
Despite societal expectations, Khairallah remains committed to her sport. "People will talk anyway,” she says, “so why not do what we want and ignore all the prejudices?"
Her previous victories at the 2019 Lebanese Powerlifting Championship and the 2021 Asian Junior Weightlifting Championship in Dubai have already made an impact on Lebanese powerlifters.
Chaer aspires to higher achievements. "My dream is to become a 'strongman' and break the world deadlift record." That accolade is currently held by Icelandic strongman Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson — aka Thor Björnsson or “The Mountain” on the musalsal “Game of Thrones” — who lifted 501 kg.
The next challenge for these two Lebanese athletes? That’s easy: to break their own records.
This story first ran in French in L’Orient-Le Jour.