Sodnompiljee Enkhbayar has had three years packed with highs and lows. On the upside, he grabbed a powerlifting bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympics – earning him fans and awards back in his homeland of Mongolia.
He then moved up a weight category, from up to 88kg to up to 107kg, and won silver at the 2017 World Championships, and gold at the Asian Para Games.
But during those heady times, his beloved coach, Sharav Enkhsaikhan, died. The pain of this loss is motivating Enkhbayar to aim even higher.
“After the Paralympics, I’d had a long conversation with him. He thought I should change my weight category, that it would make me a better competitor.
“He passed away a year after Rio, where he’d really helped me. After those Games, I’d promised him I’d do my best in Tokyo, and get the gold medal for him. He was a very good trainer. He believed that I could do it. Now I want to win for him.
“He pushed me, he was very proud me. I want to make his wish come true in Tokyo, and at the World Championships. I want a gold medal, and to break world records there, too.”
Enkhbayar’s decision to move up a weight seems to be paying off.
“Moving into a heavy category made things difficult at first, because we needed to change methods. But I train twice a day in Ulanbataar, and it is working. I am feeling very strong.
“The 2017 World Championships was important for me. I got lots more experience, and I got to see how my body was coping with the different weights. It worked out well.”
His Rio exploits made him a minor celebrity back in Mongolia.
“Brazil was an exciting experience. It makes me happy to think back. It was the first Para powerliftingmedal for Mongolia.
“When I came back, my plane landed and there were family and friends, but also people I didn’t know, cheering! I was very honoured, because they were all very happy. I was given the Honorary Athlete of Mongolia medal from the President. I was very proud.
“I’m also proud that I have helped people start to learn about Para powerlifting. Before Rio, not many people in Mongolia knew about it. I have been making a big effort to promote the sport.
“Now I have a responsibility to do well for those people. They trust in me so I am working hard to reward everyone again. I cannot make a mistake!”
Enkhbayar was a judo athlete before his amputation in 1999, which saw him take up lifting instead. “I was very young and it was difficult,” he said.
“But I don’t look back and feel sorry for myself now, because I really love the sport I’ve got into. I have ambition and a clear mission.”
He also has a slightly less glamorous job – as an accountant for a firm in Ulaanbataar –which he is currently on a break from to concentrate on his Paralympic ambitions.
“I suppose I am the strongest accountant in the world!” he laughs. “But at the moment it is all about powerlifting. I think we are good at this in Mongolia. We are a nation of fighters, with a strong spirit. I think I can use that.”