From refugee to Rio - Aussie weightlifter's rise to the top

From refugee to Rio - Aussie weightlifter's rise to the top

Cameroon-born weightlifter Simplice Ribouem is one competition away from qualifying for his first Olympics representing Australia.

Cameroon-born weightlifter Simplice Ribouem is one competition away from qualifying for his first Olympics representing Australia.

The Commonwealth Games gold and silver medallist is on the verge of obtaining a ticket to Rio, ten years after first seeking asylum.

Simplice Ribouem lives in a city apartment in Melbourne with his wife and two sons.

Splitting his time between training, working and family he has little left over to relax, but considering his first days in Australia after deciding to seek asylum, he wouldn't have it any other way.

"The first couple of nights were really hard. I slept outside the village on the park on a bench, it was freezing I had no blanket."

He arrived in Melbourne for the Commonwealth Games in 2006, winning bronze for Cameroon.

But the prospect of going back to a life of hardship and poverty in the Central African country led him to a heart-breaking decision - whether to return to his parents in Cameroon or stay and seek asylum in Australia.

He chose the latter.

"My Dad said, 'Follow your heart, don't listen to what everyone else says, follow what your heart says.' And what was at the top of my heart was every hard time I had in Cameroon and it said 'This is an opportunity, take that or watch it pass in front of your eyes.'"

The Red Cross helped Ribouem back on his feet, then four years later he again made the selection to go the Commonwealth Games.

This time it was in New Delhi, and this time he wore the uniform of an Australian athlete - and this time he brought home gold.

Now he's hoping to do the same at the Olympics in Rio.

"Olympic is the final destination for every athlete, because after Olympic there is no more competition, so everyone want to hit the Olympics."

And the Olympics in Rio could be his final chance.

Ribouem's coach, Yourik Sarkistian, says at 33-years old, Ribouem could soon face retirement.

"He's a little bit now older, he's pushing down through, his recovering is little bit late and so he's not quicker in his body movement."

Ribouem lifted into Olympic contention at the Australian Open in Brisbane, with a total of 351kg in the men's 94kg division.

He has one final hurdle this May at the 2016 Oceania Championships in Fiji, where he'll need to win the competition to retain the spot he's already technically qualified for in the Olympic squad.

Australia has had only one Olympic gold medallist in weightlifting - Dean Lukin in 1984.

Simplice Ribouem is hoping to become the second, and complete his journey from refugee to Olympic champion.

"I think if I bring gold from Rio I'm pretty sure all the world will turn around and look at my journey from Cameroon to Australia and to that level and everyone's going to say wow, what sort of story has he got, from the bottom to the top!"

One more challenge is getting his mother a visa to come to Australia to finally meet her grandsons.

Despite applying for the past three years, Ribouem has so far been unsuccessful in getting a visa for his mother.

He says after he failed to return to Cameroon, the country's government has persecuted his family and since his father died last year he now fears for his mother's safety.

"So what I just to do is instead of her living in the city I have rented her a place very far away. I pay that money every month to stay there quietly and send them money to survive. The way they treat my family over there is not good. We are not happy. Especially me I'm not happy with the way they treat my family over there."

 

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