- In this report by Small Media on the London 2012 Olympics, we discuss the trials and tribulations facing Iran's 8 women Olympians. They've faced financial strife, been kicked off their teams and reinstated days before competing, lost their coaches, and attended substandard training camps. In spite of it all, they're all excited about competing in London and their attendance shows they've already succeeded against the odds.
In this report we feature shot putter Leyla Rajabi, kayaker Arezou Hakimi, table tennis player Neda Shahsavari, rower Solmaz Abbasi, archer Zahra Dehghan, taekwondo player Sousan Hajipour, and shooters Elaheh Ahmadi and Mahlagha Jambozorg.
On August 1, 2012, Iran's Olympic archer Zahra Dehghan announced that she is retiring from competitive archery until the management of Iran's Archery Federation changes: "Currently, we won't get anywhere, we're wasting our time. From now on I'll train by myself and won’t compete for the national team. I'm hoping that someday this system will change ... We were all alone in this tournament. Vaziri [Iran's male archery competitor] and I were traveling by ourselves from the Olympic village to the stadium. We were lucky we didn't have matches on the same day so we could actually coach each other ... Vaziri had trained with the Korean coaches for 8 years and I had trained with them for 4. Even if they were bad coaches, it wasn't reasonable to change them two months before the Olympics ... Iran’s archery was improving ... Even our Korean coaches were hoping that we could qualify as a team. As individuals we were thinking of getting medals, but unfortunately this didn’t happen".
- Dehghan, pictured above, competed in the London Olympics without a coach because the Iranian Archery Federation had changed her coach just three months before the Olympics. They reinstated them at the last minute but by this stage it was too late for the Olympic authority to process their ID cards. While the coaches accompanied them to London, they were not permitted into the stadium with the athletes. We cover the story in more detail below.
- 29-year old Elaheh Ahmadi started shooting twelve years ago and became a member of Iran's national team within three years. Ahmadi is optimistic about achieving good results in London: "If I keep beating my records during training, I might be able to win some medals ... My goal is to raise my country's flag during this tournament". Ahmadi was originally a candidate to be Iran's flag-bearer, but the shooting federation prohibited her from doing so: "The truth is that they contacted me from the federation and in the end we decided that I shouldn't be the flag bearer. I can't go to the [opening] ceremony the day before a match ... I am sad, but as I have to compete the following day, I can't be the flag bearer".
- 21-year-old Mahlagha Jambozorg was the first Iranian to qualify for London 2012. In May 2011, she placed fourth in the final of the 10m Air Rifle competitions in Germany, earning her place in the London line-up. Jambozorg, from Hamedan, began shooting when she was 15 years old and became a member of Iran's national shooting team when she was 17.
After qualifying for the Olympics she said in an interview, "Honestly, the Olympics was always a dream for me, and now that dream has come true".
When asked about the support she gets from Iran's shooting federation she replied, "It's better you ask my coach. It's neither good nor bad. Human beings are always perfections and no matter how good conditions are in our training camp, we'll still look for something better. On the other hand, if I say the training camps are bad, then it's not clear whether or not my words are fair, so I prefer not to comment".
About her presence in London Jambozorg says, "Any athlete who qualifies [for the Olympics] does their best to be a good representative and to get the best result in the competitions. In my opinion, the best result would be my own satisfaction of my performance in the competition. What matters is that a shooter should aim to get their best result, but although I can't say what would be the best result, I will do my best in these competitions".
- In an exclusive interview with Small Media, 21-year-old Taekwondo player Sousan Hajipour spoke about the support she has received from the Iranian Taekwondo Federation: "[The federation] supported me fully. I have a good coach, a physical trainer, doctor, physiotherapist, good nutrition, everything ... everything that I needed I had. I went to a good training camp in South Korea and this helped me to get in the best possible shape".
We asked her about her main goal for the Olympics: "As an Iranian woman, I want to show the world that qualifying for the Olympics was not my final goal, I want to show them that we can get medals ... I hope to be the first Iranian woman to get a medal in the Olympics".
- Zahra Dehghan began her archery career six years ago at the age of 20. She was the final Iranian woman athlete to qualify for London 2012, making the Olympic cut on 23 June 2012. In the month leading up to her departure she encountered a number of problems with the Iranian Archery Federation, issues that nearly led to her missing the Olympics.
Her story begins three months ago, when the acting head of Iran's archery federation, Mohammadali Shojaei, changed the coaches of the Iranian national archery team. Dehghan had trained with her Korean coaches for years and wanted to remain with her coaches, at least until the Olympics. One month ago, just 27 days before the opening ceremony of the Olympics was due to take place, Zahra Dehghan and Milad Vaziri, Iran's male archer in the Olympics, quit the federation's training camp and wrote a letter to Shojaei asking for their Korean coaches to come back.
In the letter they announced that they would not return to the national team's camp unless their old coaches returned. In their letter, Dehghan and Vaziri also requested an Iranian coach, Hamzeh Safaei, who is the son of the Archery Foundation's former president. Current president Shojaei, angered by the letter, said the two archer's must have been provoked by an unnamed forced to write the letter and the federation replaced the archers two days later with Sareh Asadi and Nader Manouchehri.
After the news of her replacement hit the media, Dehghan commented, "It was Mr Shojaei who had insisted that we should say who we would want as our Iranian coaches. In fact, the letter that we wrote was dictated to us by Mr Shojaei. He was the one asking us to address these issues in writing".
Then again, during the sending off ceremony for athletes on 18 July, less than ten days before the Olympics, Mohammad Aliabadi, president of Iran's National Olympic Committee, announced that Zahra Dehghan and Milad Vaziri would return to represent Iran in the Olympics: "With the approval of Abbasi, the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, the original archers have been re-introduced as our representatives at the Olympics".
Dehghan was happy to represent Iran in the archery competition and said, "Getting to the Olympics is a really good feeling and I thank God that in the last minutes I returned to the Olympic team's list". She emphasised that she had continued as normal with her training regime, even while she was off the team: "For a while our mental condition wasn't good, but since our departure to London has become definite, our condition has improved and we're shooting better than ever before".
In an ironic twist, some Iranian news agencies reported that the two Iranian coaches who were supposed to accompany the archers to London on 23 July said they were unable to go because their ID cards had not been issued. A few hours before Dehghan started shooting in the ranking round in Lord's Cricket Ground on 27 July 2012, Iranian news agencies reported that Milad Vaziri, the male archer, would be Dehghan's coach.
- The story of Iran's female Olympic rower Solmaz Abbasi, goes back to May 2012, when the President of Iran's Canoe Federation, Ahmad Donyamali, was dismissed by Mohammad Abbasi, on behalf of Iran's Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. The International Canoe Federation (ICF) objected to this replacement. Jose Perurena, the ICF president, wrote a letter to Mohammad Abbasi, saying that Iran's rowers could only participate in London 2012 if Donyamali was reinstated. Simon Toulson, the Secretary General of the ICF said, "As far as we are concerned, Mr Donyamali is still the president of Iran's Canoe Federation".
After this happened, Solmaz Abbasi was contacted by a number of news outlets to make comment on the story. In an interview on 6 June 2012 she stated, "As I am training now, focusing on the news distracts me from my main goal and affects my training". Although she has tried to steer clear of the news, she admits it has been hard to avoid: "[The situation] has affected me subconsciously anyway, but I hope everything goes back to normal so that we can go to the Olympics".
After two weeks of negotiations between Iranian sport authorities and politicians, Iran's president Mahmood Ahmadinejad said the former president of the federation should accompany the Iranian olympic team, and Solmaz Abbasi’s presence became definite on 18 July.
Just before her departure Abbasi said, "Considering what happened, and although I tried to stay away from it, at some points I lost my concentration and I lost my drive. However, I will do my best and try to get an acceptable result".
- Neda Shahsavari believes that qualifying for the Olympics was the result of a hard, constant teamwork: "Two months before the qualification tournaments I started training constantly ... participating in the International table tennis tournament in Hungary and practicing with Hungarians in Tehran also helped me to achieve success". Shahsavari also mentioned that her success in qualifying for the Olympics has caused the Table Tennis Federation to pay more attention to women; this year, more female table tennis players have competed in international tournaments.
Shahsavari says that having a strong training partner is crucial: "The only thing I requested from the federation before the Olympics was to have appropriate training opponents. Fortunately, on the second of July, four Hungarian players came to Iran ... we trained very well, but they left on the 9th. I wish I could have trained with them for two or three months, but even this short period of time was kind of satisfactory".
She went on to complain of the lack of [financial] support from the federation: “The fundamental problem facing [female] national [table tennis] players is financial problems. I trained mostly in Kermanshah [West Iran] with my family. My father spent thousands of pounds making our garden a training salon for table tennis. When we train, we need to buy new rubber for our paddles. Each month we go through several pieces of rubber, which are quite expensive. All this while the Federation gives us only two replacement rubbers for international games, and nothing more".
Of the Olympics Shahsavari said, "I trained well and I think I'm in top shape, but the Olympics is a hard and big tournament and I don't know what will happen. During the games I will use all the techniques and tactics I have acquired". She also mentioned the importance of the luck of the draw: "A good draw plays an important role in the Olympics, and I hope I won’t be in the same draw as my East Asian rivals. They are the best in table tennis and is hard to compete against them".
- 17-year-old Arezou Hakimi is Iran's youngest female athlete. She started kayaking four years ago, after an early career in swimming: "I was a member of the national swimming national team, but because being a [Iranian] female swimmer would just allow me to compete in domestic competitions, I decided to start kayaking in order to be able to compete internationally".
Hakimi didn't officially qualify for the Olympics. She poached her place from Arezou Motamedi, who had earned a place for Iran at the Olympics after placing fourth in the 200m at the Asian Qualification Games in October 2011. Because the three rivals who had beaten her had already qualified, Motamedi gained a qualification place. However, the Iranian Rowing Federation decided they wanted to send the best kayaker to the games, so they held a competition amongst 18 Iranian females to determine who would go to London.
Hakimi's coach Yuldashev Vyvchslav said, "Arezou was great. Before the competition I knew her dream would come true ... Hakimi will have a bright future. She has only just become. She shouldn't become too proud and she should still try hard".
Hakimi says she is ready for the Olympics: “Thank God I am in good shape. I've been training for about a month in Azadi Complex [in Tehran], and I am close to being physically ready for the Olympics ... I will do my best to improve on my personal best". She emphasised further, “As getting a medal in the 30th Olympics is going to be very hard, I promise to get a medal for Iran in Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics.”