In a day and age when money and cynicism dominate sports, there remains a dying breed of athlete of the like of Sergio Britva.Though he suffered a horrendous injury that ruined his career and despite the fact that being a weightlifter is a financial burden, Britva continues to represent Israel with honor.Winning a gold medal at the 2014 World Masters Weightlifting Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, last month, Britva reached first place in the 94-kg. competition in the 40-44 age category.
The 42-year-old Brazil native scaled the top of the podium in the event for the fourth straight time, adding to the gold medals he won in 2010, 2012 and 2013. He missed the 2011 championships due to injury, but went on to take gold at the European Championships that year.“Winning this year was just as exciting as winning my first gold medal,” insisted Britva. “Only I know how hard it is to train for the World Championships, build a family and work 10 hours a day to support it. I get up at 5 a.m. and bust my ass in training before I even go into the office. Three times a week I go on a run in the middle of the afternoon in order to squeeze in another workout, and return to the office before leaving for home to arrive in time for my daughter’s bath.“There is a dynamic here that even Olympic athletes can’t handle.”Despite the incredible effort it requires, Britva has never regretted his decision to become a weightlifter.“I tell my friends that I train in order to compete and I work in order to train,” he said. “Had I been brave enough to leave for Australia or New Zealand 10 years ago, I would certainly be making a living in sports. However, in Israel I work as a project manager. The job really isn’t for me, but it’s what supports my family.”After competing in the Maccabiah as a 17-year-old in 1989, Britva moved to Israel from Brazil in 1996. He returned to South America just a year later after struggling to settle in the country.“I was left with many memories of a very interesting country after taking part in the Maccabiah,” he noted. “I decided to make aliya in 1996, but didn’t manage to stay. I felt more of a foreigner in Israel than I ever did as a Jew in Brazil.”Nevertheless, he came back in 1998 after being told that he would be afforded any help he required to try to qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He stayed for good, even though all the promises made to him were not backed up with actions.“I returned again in 1998 because someone promised me that they would invest in me ahead of the Olympics,” he said. “However, they never really invested any money. The house they promised me ended up being a warehouse, and I wasn’t given a coach or a physiotherapist.I was misled.”In his prime, Britva was ranked as high as No. 8 in Europe and No. 17 in the world in his weight class. However, his career was turned on its head at the Israel National Championships in 2003.Britva tore a tendon in his right shoulder while taking part in the competition after one of the floorboards, which was not nailed down properly, slid backwards while he was lifting a barbell loaded with weight plates.He had every reason to feel sorry for himself, but after undergoing an excruciating recovery process, he returned to the sport and became the world’s best in his age category.“I was a victim of negligence, but if you believe in yourself you can recover,” he explained. “I underwent the recovery all by myself. My desire to return to competition was greater than the frustration, anger or trauma. I believe in love. When you love something it overcomes hate. That is what guides me until this day.”Britva participates in just one competition abroad each year, as he funds all the expenses himself. He still holds two national records since 1999, but never received the recognition he deserved in Israel.“When I compete abroad people hug me and take photos with me, and I receive all the love that I’m not given throughout the year in Israel,” he said. “Unfortunately, in our country we really don’t understand sports. The character of the people is not to train hard, and the character of the local culture is not to give credit where credit is due. The country doesn’t treat sports professionally. Even when there is money to invest, it is thrown away as no one takes anything seriously.”In 2010, Britva made international headlines after winning his first gold medal at the World Championships. It wasn’t his triumph that made the news, but the fact that silver medalist Hossein Khodadadi of Iran was suspended for life after standing on the podium beside Britva, even though he refused to shake the Israeli’s hand.“The fact that an Iranian weightlifting veteran has competed against an Israeli during the worldwide competitions and has stood beside him during the medal ceremony is unjustifiable,” said Jalal Yahya-Zadeh, head of Iran’s Physical Education for Youth Committee.Britva, for his part, is adamant that sports and politics should not mix, but admitted he drew additional motivation that day from finishing second to a different Iranian at the World Masters Games a year earlier.Unlike the annual World Masters Weightlifting Championships, the World Masters Games is an international multi-sport event that is held every four years and is the largest of its kind. Britva won his first gold medal at the Games last year, and despite all that he has overcome and achieved, he still has many more dreams he plans to realize.“My big dream is to compete in the 2017 Masters Games in New Zealand, but of course I also want to continue and win the World Championships every year,” he concluded with a smile.