Vegetarian strongman weightlifter Ilya Ilyin eyes 3rd gold in Rio

3 min

Almaty (Kazakhstan) (AFP)

Raised in the far-flung steppes of Kazakhstan, Ilya Ilyin wants to become the most successful weightlifter in history and he has already made his mark as probably the first vegetarian beefcake to win a world title.

The 27-year-old is now training to win a third Olympic title at the Rio de Janeiro Games in August which would entrench his reputation as Kazakhstan's most successful athlete of all time.

Ilyin gave up eating meat after the London Olympics, when he had spoken about the benefits of eating chicken and horsemeat.

He admits that his coaches had misgivings, but said: "I just have much better feeling in my body. It is not easy for me to digest meat.

"I waste too much energy in digesting meat and that's why I get my proteins from other products.

"I like beans and and other legume plants very much. I need a lot of 'live' products such as fruit and vegetables.

It has become a very important aspect in my preparations."

Ilyin, who has a worldwide following, had already given up meat when he won the men's 105kg title at the 2014 world championships in his native Kazakhstan.

The IWF said that many Indian lifters are vegetarians "nobody has yet been able to name a vegetarian who ever won a world title."

"My main goal is to become the most successful weightlifter in history," Ilyin told a recent press conference.

"I also promised our president that I would win at the Games and I'm set on keeping my word."

Kazakhstan has had most Olympic success in boxing and weightlifting, winning 17 boxing medals and 10 weightlifting medals since the 1996 Atlanta Games.

The country has won five weightlifting gold medals. The two won by Kazakh men -- at the London and Beijing Games -- belong to Ilyin.

Ilyin, who was named weightlifter of the year four times by the International Weightlifting Federation, holds Olympic records in the 94kg category with his clean and jerk of 233kg and overall total of 418kg at the 2012 Games in London.

Ilyin grew up in the southern city of Kyzylorda. His youth coach Vilory Pak said weightlifting kept Ilyin off the streets.

"I often had to look for him in back alleys," said Pak. "Sometimes I had to drag him by the hand and take him to practice. I'm glad this was not all in vain."

Ilyin, the son of a hairdresser and a machinery plant worker, began weightlifting at the age of six. His older brother Alexei won national titles in his age category.

Ilyin won his first national title at 13 and his first world title at 17 at the 2005 world championship in Doha. He has won four world titles as well as the Beijing and London Olympic titles.

Pavel Novikov, vice-president of Kazakhstan's National Olympic Committee, told AFP that his country views Ilyin's participation in a third Olympics as a success in itself.

He said he it would be an extraordinary achievement for Ilyin to get a third gold.