After a torturous journey that included sleeping on the streets and contemplating suicide, former refugee Cyrille Tchatchet’s dream of winning a Commonwealth Games medal for England was ended by a full-body spasm.
It had been eight years since Tchatchet last competed at these Games, then in the colors of his native Cameroon before sneaking away from Glasgow 2014 with just a pair of shoes and a weightlifting belt.
So began the long process of Tchatchet’s path to British citizenship, with his application for asylum approved in 2016 and full citizenship only approved at the beginning of this year.
The 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 the cramps struck from the very start of the men’s 96kg final.
Tchatchet still managed to snag 158kg to leave him in silver medal position at the halfway mark, but he collapsed after his first clean and jerk attempt and two more faults prevented him from recording a final total.
“The first time he went to the bar he started cramping,” said England powerlifting team manager Stuart Martin, with Tchatchet backstage and too distraught to speak to waiting reporters.
“He drank some soda, had some sugary sweets and we tried to help him massage his mouth.
“We relaxed him as much as we could and put him in the most comfortable position possible, but the same thing happened again with the next two moves and you saw the rest.
“I’ve never seen anyone go out there with their whole body tight and clean 158 kilos – and I hope I never will again.”
When Tchatchet left his Glasgow hotel room eight years ago because of fears for his safety should he return to Cameroon, his future looked bleak.
He slept poorly, suffered from depression and went to a notorious suicide site in south-east England where he was “certain” he would have jumped if he hadn’t seen a Samaritans sign.
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 fashion, Martin believes, that allows Tchatchet – who finished 10th at the Tokyo Olympics last year when he represented the refugee team – to recover from this blow.
He said: “What Cyrille has been through since coming to the UK has been terrible. Any refugee will tell you that it is a lengthy process and requires a lot of patience.
“For him to miss out on a silver medal to look at that board (at the halfway point) is absolutely gut-wrenching.
“But we’ve been absolutely privileged to have him as part of this team.
“He’s as much an Englishman as anyone on this team and maybe in Victoria in four years’ time he’ll get the opportunity to win the medal 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 took silver and bronze.