Baranyai returns from horrific injury

BY foxsports • March 8, 2012

Images of Janos Baranyai dislocating his elbow at the 2008 Olympics have been viewed more than 15 million times on YouTube.

The Hungarian weightlifter, however, has only seen it twice.

Baranyai's right elbow popped out of its socket as he was attempting to snatch 148 kilograms (326.3 pounds) in the men's 77-kilogram (169.76 pounds) division at the Beijing Olympics, tearing ligaments and muscle.

His elbow was reset by doctors in China without the need for surgery and Baranyai spent three weeks in the hospital doing rehabilitation work after returning to Hungary.

''The reason I watched the video was to see what my mistake had been,'' the 27-year-old Baranyai said. ''I didn't find any mistakes and I'd do it over in exactly the same way. To this day, I don't know what the problem was.''

Baranyai's right forearm bent backward as he crouched and lifted the barbell over his head. After his elbow gave out, he fell forward screaming in pain with his lower arm hanging at an impossible angle. Adding to his agony, the barbell fell on his back.

''I've never felt such pain,'' Baranyai told The Associated Press during interviews in his home and at the nearby gym where he trains with the hope of qualifying for the London Olympics. ''I'm not a delicate kid, but that was brutal.''

Despite the severity of the injury, Baranyai seems to carry no scars. There are none on his elbow because doctors were able to avoid surgery. His psyche appears just as unblemished.

''Spiritually, this injury did not break me at all,'' Baranyai said. ''I never think about it ... even now when I lift larger weights. It never occurs to me what would happen if my elbow were to give again.''

The only visible reminder on his elbow is a tattoo — ''Beijing 2008'' over the five Olympic rings.

''Of course, I still have memories of it, but I had the tattoo put on a few months after the injury,'' Baranyai said.

He began lifting weights again about six months after Beijing, when his elbow was feeling better but his back was still sore.

''My spine was very painful for more than half a year. Every time I touched it, I could feel the mark'' of the barbell.

Imre Dobos, the president of the Hungarian Weightlifting Federation, said he was amazed by Baranyai's resiliency.

''His injury was severe and very rare,'' Dobos said. ''It is his tremendous spiritual strength which has helped him overcome it. Many believed that he would be scared of the weights, which is usually the case.''

It was 4 a.m. in Hungary when Baranyai's parents and older sister saw the accident while watching the live broadcast from Beijing. Three hours went by before they were able to get news of his condition.

''My mother would have been happier if I'd retired but by now she has resigned herself to my plans,'' Baranyai said.

He was back to full strength in about a year and returned to international competition in 2010. Moving up to the 85-kilogram (187.39 pounds) category, Baranyai finished seventh at the European championships and 15th at the world championships that year.

Baranyai's hometown of Oroszlany is a city of 22,000 people about 75 kilometers (46 miles) west of Budapest. During communism, it was renowned for its coal mines, but all except one have since shut down. The city's landscape is also blemished by the brutal central planning schemes of the earlier era, with gray housing projects quashing the traditional, single-family homes.

Oroszlany's struggles are also reflected in the gym where Baranyai and the rest of the team trains, a rectangular room with peeling paint, dusty floors and worn-out weight sets. Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, Oroszlany's weightlifting club has produced a string of quality athletes, including Baranyai's father, a junior world champion in 1981.

An earthquake in the region in January 2011 was strong enough to knock down Baranyai's large collection trophies off the shelf, and for months he was forced to work out in the family garage because the team he competed for during several years — from the eastern city of Nyiregyhaza — was unable to pay his gym fees.

Now back with the Oroszlany club, Baranyai still uses the garage for morning lifting sessions and has his sights on April's European Championships in Antalya, Turkey.

Dobos said that a medal there would practically ensure Baranyai a place at the Olympics in London, with his return from such serious injury also supported by the International Fair Play Committee.

Right now, Baranyai's biggest challenge seems to be adding some weight to his muscular frame.

''I'm at 85 kilograms right now, but my ideal training weight would be 87,'' Baranyai said. ''I need to get stronger.''

Baranyai, also a former national junior judo champion, will be 28 by the time of the London Olympics, but he hopes to continue his career until at least the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

''At my age, there would be time another four-year cycle. I'm not too old yet,'' Baranyai said. ''Unless some serious injury comes along, I can continue this sport until Rio.''