In-depth | Sports

The shadow of a champion

By - 15.01.2024

The father and son with an iron will.


57-year-old Shaban Ramadani has transformed the yard behind his house into a training ground for his son, Muhamet. Now 21 years old, Muhamet holds the title of European shot put champion. Their day begins and ends on the exercise ground, from where you can see their neighbors’ houses.

Eight years ago, when he was 13, Muhamet had health problems due to being overweight — he weighed 90 kilograms. Shaban, a former handball player, decided to get Muhamet involved with sports. Shaban’s priority was his son’s health. He did not anticipate that this would mark the beginning of a journey that would ultimately place his son’s name and Kosovo on the list of European shot put champions.

They first tried playing basketball, but it didn’t work for them. As they returned, disheartened, from the basketball practice, something happened.

They stopped at the Adem Jashari Olympic Stadium in Mitrovica where the local athletes were training.

“I told them to take him in and make him run at least, so he can lose some weight. But they said ‘let’s try the shot put.’ It was obvious he had some sort of talent,” recalled Shaban. From that point on things began to flow naturally for them, just like the river Ibër flows near their home in Mitrovica.

Standing next to his father, Muhamet said that he had no strong connection with the sport at first.

“I didn’t like shot put at all. I had never thought about this sport before. It was my dad who pushed me, because I didn’t like it,” said Muhamet. Now, he identifies with this sport. He tapes his right wrist and gets ready to start the morning’s training in the shot put area. He spends most of the day there. Once an improvised training ground, today it is surrounded by a metal cabin that protects Muhamet from the sun and the wind.

His training program is curated by his sole coach, his father. Today’s agenda includes practicing shot put with both full rotation and half-turn throwing techniques.

After taping his wrist, he grabs the shot in his hand, lightly tosses it from one hand to the other and takes his position inside the casting circle. He places the shot between his neck and shoulder and his arm makes a right angle. His feet quickly rotate, one after the other, each one making a noise as it hits the concrete floor. The noise stops. The shot leaves his neck and Muhamet lets out a grunt.

The sunlight was briefly interrupted by the shot. As it disappears from sight, Muhamet and Shaban wait to see how far it goes. Around 20 meters away, the sand kicks up from the power of the shot. Muhamet observes and doesn’t speak, as if he is saying to himself “you can do better.”

“Good. Let’s try it again,” his father told him. For eight years now, he has been like his son’s shadow.

“Maybe for the others it is a bit easier, as I am always around Muhamet. I never leave him, nothing can slip through the cracks,” he said, adding that in eight years he has only missed training seven times, and this was due to surgery.

For eight years now, Shaban has been like Muhamet’s shadow. Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

Muhamet’s  day starts at 6:00 a.m. with morning runs, sprints and stretches. When he returns home, a smoothie waits for him that his father prepares with fruits, nuts, vegetables and protein. Then Muhamet takes a nap while Shaban goes to his job at the local water supply, not far from the house. The second training session where they focus on shot put technique is from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and in the evening they go to the gym from 6:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m.. Sunday is Muhamet’s  only day off.

Muhamet, who currently studies education and physical culture at a private university in Prishtina, where he has been awarded a scholarship, slowly and silently picks up the shot and starts from the beginning.

The shot flew through the air several times. It seemed as though Shaban and Muhamet’s  thoughts were flying away too, as were the troubles that the father and son experienced in their one-story house next to the training ground.

Making a champion

Facing a weak infrastructure that does not cultivate the discipline of track and field, Shaban had to take everything into his own hands. Determined to see his son as a disciplined champion, he took on the responsibility to make a champion from scratch.

He saw Muhamet’s potential the first day he tried the shot put, but knew that he and Muhamet had to work hard to achieve the success he sought.

“Right after he turned 14 years old, I sent him straight to the gym. We worked as hard as horses,” recalled Shaban, admitting that it required so much work and discipline that there were times when Muhamet would cry from exhaustion.

His father’s training regimen is strict. He trains three times a day and follows a specific diet.

After a year of daily training, Muhamet’s skill grew.

“At first I threw 13-14 meters. After going to the gym, boom, I threw 18 or more meters,” remembered Muhamet. After this he was approached by many who wanted him to join their athletics clubs.

Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0

The training continued, following videos Shaban and Muhamet found on the internet. They read everything they found online and applied it in the training ground in their backyard. Muhamet did well in local competitions and soon began competing internationally.

Shaban didn’t accompany Muhamet to his first international competition in Türkiye, a U18 championship in which Muhamet came in fifth as a 15-year-old, as the Kosovo Athletic Federation did not designate him as a coach. Shaban also didn’t attend Muhamet’s second international competition, but he did leave him with one instruction.

“Don’t come back without a medal,” Shaban had told him, even as the Kosovar delegation did not believe that Muhamet would return from Baku, Azerbaijan as a winner. Muhamet’s shot flew 19.75 meters, winning a gold medal for Kosovo.

This gold medal made Shaban decide to never miss another one of his son’s competitions.

“I told [the federation] that the next time either I go as his coach, or I’ll take my son to compete for another country,” he said, adding that he impatiently waited to hear back from them.

Muhamet’s next competition was the 2019 U-18 Balkan Championship in Türkiye. This time, Muhamet had his father by his side, his steadfast supporter. His father said he was filled with emotion as he stood in the coaches’ stand while Muhamet paraded into the stadium.

“When I saw him holding the Kosovo flag and walking around the stadium, I got very emotional. I started crying in the stands,” recalled Shaban. The same thing happened to him at the second competition he accompanied his son to. But in the third, “I was only looking at the result because ego got the best of me; I kept my head up,” said Shaban.

Initially, other participants approached Muhamet to give him advice and talk to him, as they saw a young contestant from Kosovo as a novelty. But today, being one of the main competitors, Shaban said that other participants have more respect for Muhamet and less advice.

“This pleases me the most. Somehow they look at us as serious competitors, and I love this a lot. I don’t want anything else,” he said laughing.

Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0

Shabani remembers an incident at the 2021 U-20 European Championship in Estonia that illustrates just one of the many times he was ready to support Muhamet.

In this competition, putting the shot further than 19.30 meters in the first attempt automatically secures a place in the final. Muhamet putted 19.80 meters and thus qualified.

“The second round starts. I saw that they were not allowing Muhamet to throw. In a rush, I climbed the stadium fences and went to ask why they weren’t letting him throw,” said Shaban. “Then Muhamet gave me a sign to go back, that meant ‘I am qualified.'”

Muhamet became European champion for the U-20 age range with a final distance of 19.92 meters, winning a medal that Kosovo had never previously had in this discipline. 

“It is a very good feeling. Because all the work we do that no one sees is rewarded and we never skip training,” said Muhamet.

But Muhamet almost lost the opportunity to compete for this championship, which he and his father remember so fondly today.

Two weeks before the European Championship in Estonia, the U-20 Balkan Championship was held in Türkiye. Muhamet was the favorite and the day before the competition was doing a final practice.

“I took the shot, and when I started spinning, then threw the shot … I thought my leg was broken because it creaked and I fell to the ground,” said Muhamet. Shaban immediately left the stands and took Muhamet to the doctors. One told him that he had sprained his ankle, the other said he had torn a ligament. Those doctors were not Muhamet’s, as he was accompanied to the competitions only by his father, although his rivals had up to four people with them.

“The European Championship was two weeks later. The injury happened around 3:00 p.m. I didn’t sleep until the next day, I was putting ice on his knee. I cried by his knee,” said Shaban. “It wasn’t just that I lost him this competition, but I also thought I made him lose the European Championship.” However, Muhamet recovered within 24 hours.

“He got on the bus limping and went to the competition. He had his [slot] at 6:00 p.m. He started warming up, so I told him to start exercising a bit. I told him to throw it from a stationary position, because there’s nothing else we can do,” said Shaban. “He wanted to enter with the rotational technique, I told him ‘don’t do it,’ he replied ‘I’ll try.’ I said ‘alright try it,’ it went well and he won first place.”

The main goal — the 21 meter Olympic medal

Despite their successes, Muhamet and Shaban are never satisfied. As they win medals, Muhamet is growing older. As he ages, the category in which he competes changes, as does the weight of the shot. This requires more work for the imposingly large duo.

Muhamet does not participate in many competitions. Following the advice of Olympic judo coach Driton Kuka, Muhamet and Shaban choose competitions where they can achieve results and gain experience. However, they have never neglected the local Kosovo championship.

Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

Now, Muhamet has seven or eight competitors at his level. At the European Throwing Cup held in Portugal in March 2023, he faced tough competition but secured first place, putting the shot 19.28 meters.

Although they share their struggles with each other every day, different emotions accompany each of them during competitions.

“Until the competition starts, I’m stressed,” said Muhamet. “But right after the competition starts, believe me, all that stress goes away and I only look at the result. After the race starts all these feelings disappear.”

Shaban experiences the opposite. “When he is calm, I’m suffocating. When I look at him, he’s all easygoing, doesn’t even care,” he said, adding that perhaps the pressure while training over the years has made him this way.

Their goal now is clear.

“To get into the top 10 at the Paris Olympics [in 2024] and win a medal at the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028,” said Muhamet.

Photo: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.

Shaban’s next goal starts from inside their yard. His goal is for Muhamet to put the shot 21 meters. Shaban is convinced that his son will achieve it, although at a slower pace than he would with a professional coach.

“I know that with a professional coach, Muhamet would achieve this in six months. But no one [federations or institutions] pays for an international coach. With me, he can do it, even though it will take longer,” he said. However, he said that he doesn’t insist on being the only coach involved in Muhamet’s training — there’s room for a professional coach, too.

When Muhamet was only 16 years old, he had asked his father, “Dad, do we have enough money to continue?” Without hesitation Shaban answered “yes,” even though he only had 2,000 euros left from the 26,000 euros he made from selling 10 acres of land.

Now, Shaban puts his hand on Muhamet’s arm as they walk together and looks at him with admiration. He admires how his son, who once didn’t even like the shot put, has put his name and that of his hometown on a pedestal. A lot happened to get them to this point.


Feature Image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0