- In this report, which concludes our series on Iranian women athletes performing in London 2012, we reveal how western sanctions may be restricting some of Iran's paralympic athletes, how the facilities they need for training are often not furnished by the Iranian sports federation and how, in spite of the adversity they face in both their personal and sporting life, a number of Iran’s women Paralympians are medal contenders. We give a brief overview of each of the athletes taking part in London 2012 Paralympics and will add updates to this report as and when results or new interviews in the Farsi-language media become available.
Day 7- Archery
Iran secured the bronze medal in the women's recurve team event after beating Italy 188-184 in the final round of the competition. The Iranian archery team - consisting of Zahra Nemati, Razieh Shirmohammadi and Zahra Javanmard - defeated the Czech Republic with a score of 190-167 in the quarterfinals, and lost to Korea by the score 192-186 in the semifinals to advance to the bronze medal match.
- Day 7-Athletics
Hajar Taktaz competed today in the women's shot put F11/12 class, placing fifth with distance of 8.85 meters. Taktaz competed against 18 other athletes with a similar degree of visual impairment. Bahman Rezaei, Taktaz's coach, stated that a fifth place finish in Taktaz's first appearance at the Paralympics was well beyond his expectations.
Day 6- Archery
The archer Zahra Nemati today won a gold medal in the women’s individual recurve W1/W2 class. Nemati is the first Iranian female athlete to ever win a gold medal in the Paralympic games. Nemati holds the world record for this class, which she set in May 2012 with a score of 622, and the Paralympic record, which she set on August 30 2012 with a score of 613.
- In an interview after the final, Nemati said: “Thank God, this was the hardest game I have ever played; it was so difficult... My Italian opponent was very good. I’m so glad to have won the hardest match of my life. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” In the semifinals earlier the same day, Nemati beat her opponent Floreno Veronica of Italy with a score of 6-0.
Day 3- Archery
On the third day of the London 2012 Paralympics, Zahra Nemati (archer) competed and beat her opponent, Gizem Girismen, in the quarterfinals of the women’s individual recurve W1/W2 with a score of 6-2. Nemati has now advanced to the semifinals which will take place on Tuesday 4 September.
Zahra Javanmard competed in 1/16 elimination round in the women’s individual recurve standing class, but lost to her opponent Leigh Walmsley of Great Britain and was eliminated from the competition. Razieh Shirmohammadi also competed in the women’s individual recurve standing, competing against Magali Comte of Switzerland, but lost to her opponent 2-6 and was eliminated from the competition.
Day Two - Shooting
Today Sareh Javanmardi won bronze in the Women's 10m Air Pistol event, taking home the first medal of the Iranian paralympic team. She qualified in third place, and scored enough in the final round to retain her ranking. After winning Javanmardi said, "Over the past 6 months I've endured many difficulties to get to this medal ... I've been away from my family for months and have been dreaming of a medal every day. I'm very happy that all my effort has transformed into a bronze medal". This was Javanmardi's first paralympics appearance and she was against strong opponents from Russia and Spain. Her teammate Alieh Mahmood competed in the same class and placed 6th.
Day Two - Archery
On the second day archer Zahra Nemati, archer, who broke the world record in the ranking rounds, played against Mariangela Perna from Italy and beat her 6-0.
Day One - Archery
On the first day of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Iranian archer Zahra Nemati set the world Paralympic record, scoring 613 points in the ranking round, showing her promise as a medal hopeful for Iran. After breaking the record Nemati said referring to her faith, "I was lucky today that I could put the arrow into the target despite the rain and the wind and the cold weather. I hope I can carry on like this ... The hand of God puts arrows on the target and this has been proven to me many a time".
Archers Zahra Javanmard and Razieh Shirmohammadi also competed in the Women's Individual Recurve Standing ranking rounds on August 30. Shirmohammadi placed 5th (552 points) and Javanmard came 15th (481 points).
- 27-year-old archer Zahra Nemati (pictured above), from Kerman, is ranked second in the world in Recurve W1/W1 Women’s Individual. Nemati qualified for the 2012 Paralympics over a year ago, in the World Archery Para Championships. During the Para Championships, held in Turin, Italy, in July 2011, medal-hopeful Nemati set two world records.
Nemati has only been an archer for four years. She was once a competitive Taekwondo player but eight years ago her spinal cord was injured in an accident and she took up archery. Her natural aptitude for sports prevailed and after only 6 months she earned a place on the national Iranian archery team:
“Before becoming disabled, I used to play Taekwondo professionally and I had a black belt. After becoming disabled I still wanted to play sports … One of my friends suggested I go to an archery club in Kerman and sign on. After a short while I realised how much I liked the sport and was passionate about becoming very successful. With the drive that I had and the support that I received from my family, which was a godsend, I became a member of the national team after only six months ... being an archer not only gave me self confidence, it brought joy and peace back into my life.”
However, Nemati expressed that being a disabled sportsperson is not easy in Iran: “Even though the Iranian Sport Federation for the Disabled and the Provincial Sports Board provided some facilities for us we still struggle to find good practice locations, especially in winter … Our equipment is very expensive. With the current exchange rate the costs are astronomically higher. So far, we have paid for everything ourselves and the federation has helped as much as they could”. In an interview before her flight to London Nemati said, “I’ll do my best to perform well in London and bring home a medal”.
- Razieh Shir Mohammadi (above), another of Iran’s Paralympic archers, is ranked 9th in the world in the Recurve Standing Class. She qualified for London 2012 by winning the gold medal at the Asian Para Games in December 2010 in Guangzhou, China.
Khorasan-born Shir Mohammadi took up archery 9 years ago after she was forced to give up sitting volleyball: “I loved sitting volleyball but an injury forced me to stop playing … when I stopped I thought it was the end of the world and I was very depressed, but my father, who didn’t want me to waste away at home, encouraged me to take up another sport and I started archery.” Shir Mohammadi has also had to rely on the financial support of those closest to her to continue her sport: “I needed £2000 to buy archery equipment so my father loaned me some money”. She also received help from the State Welfare Organization of Iran, a public institution that aims to support disabled and deprived communities, and Astann Quds Razavi.
Shir Mohammadi’s determination began when she was injured as a youngster and claims the adversity she has faced in her life has made her stronger:
“My father was the head of a chicken farm and one day I went with him to work and fell into one of the blenders that was making up the chicken feed and my leg was injured”. She is the youngest child in her family, her older sister has special needs, her mother has cancer and diabetes, her father passed away a few years ago and she is raising a 14-year-old daughter: “Having hope and courage is something you can control … You have to have the desire to be successful. I believe if I stopped archery and started another sport, I would still be successful”.
- 40-year-old archer Zahra Javanmard (above) also qualified for the London Paralympics in the 2011 World Archery Para Championships in Turin, Italy. This is the second time she has qualified for the Paralympic games: “In 2008 I qualified for the Paralympics but the national team didn’t go to Beijing so I continued training and qualified for London in Turin”.
Javanmard started archery in 2001 and qualified for the Iranian national team after two years. Before that she was also active in a number of other sports including table tennis, swimming, and shooting. She gets a lot of support from her family:
“I have a thirteen-year-old daughter who always helps me train and supports me being on the national team. At a national level athletes have to sacrifice many things to succeed ... although I have to spend many days away from my family, being in the Paralympics makes all these difficulties worth it and my daughter understands that”.
She’s also proud of representing her country and her religion: “It is also important for me to participate in these competitions as a veiled Iranian woman and to show the world the abilities of Iranian women”. Like the other archers, Javanmard also has issues finding places to train: “Sometimes I had to train at home during the winter, but now I am grateful to the Astann Quds Razavi’s management for providing me with a place to train”. Javanmard is also hopeful for a medal: “I’ve worked very hard over the past few years and I really hope the result of my hard work is to win a medal at the London 2012 Paralympic games”.
- Alieh Mahmoudi (pictured, above right), an Iranian shooter from Sari, took up shooting four years ago: “At first I didn’t like shooting. My main sport was javelin, but there were no facilities in my city [Sari] ... My family encouraged me to take up shooting, and after a while I became intrigued and it’s now been about four years that I’m able to call myself a shooter”.
Mahmoudi has won medals in international competitions before and hopes to bring one home from London as well. In an interview, Alieh Mahmoudi criticized Mazandaran’s sporting authorities for not paying enough attention to Paralympic athletes: “The Iranian Sports Federation for the Disabled tries to provide the optimal conditions for our training but we don’t get the same support that Olympians do, and this is while we face more adversity”.
Western sanctions have affected Mahmoudi as well and the price of the pellets she uses has tripled: “The pellets I use are made abroad and, due to the sanctions, I haven’t been able to find them anywhere in Iran. Now I’m using another type of pellets, which will affect my performance, but there’s nothing I can do”.
Mahmoudi trained for one year without a coach and had many technical difficulties, but the Federation supported her more as the games neared: “Before when we had training camps in our city, we used to pay for our expenses such as buying pellets, but over the past couple of months leading up to our departure to London the Federation provided the pellets for us”.
- Iranian blind shot putter Hajar Taktaz (above) qualified for London 2012 Paralympics in IBSA [International Blind Sports Federation] World Games in April 2011 after winning a bronze medal. Taktaz started sport when she lost her vision completely at the age of nineteen:
“When I hadn’t lost my sight completely I used to follow sports on TV and I was interested in athletics. When I lost my sight completely in the age of nineteen, I became very depressed. But my physical education teacher encouraged me to take up sport. Initially my family did not want me to, because they thought it would be hard for me and that I would encounter many problems, but after three months they were finally convinced”.
Taktaz’s father was a staunch convert, waiting hour upon hour outside the club [sport’s clubs are gender segregated in Iran] for her to finish training.
Taktaz has always dreamed of attending the Paralympics, and certainly has a sense of humility and humour about her: “When I first started, I was setting my sights on getting to the world championships, but after getting some medals in different international games, I became certain that I’d be able to qualify for a Paralympics. I definitely think I’m going to bring home a medal, it’s just a bit hard for me to tell what colour that medal will be”. If she brings home a medal she may retire: “I might stop professional sport if I do well in the Paralympics because I’m very tired and have many injuries … I broke my leg last year and I haven’t recovered yet. Even if I retire I’ll never stop playing sports completely, I’ll always train for myself”. Taktaz acknowledges the I.R.Iran Sports Federation for the Blind and the Iranian Paralympic committee for their help and support in “providing facilities that have increased the chances for a good medal in London.”
- Marzieh Sedghi (above), a 32-year-old from Tabriz, will represent Iran in the women’s javelin. Sedghi qualified for London 2012 Paralympics after winning a gold and a silver medal at the Asian Para Games in December 2010 in Guangzhou, China.
Sedghi began playing sport professionally sport in 2005 and became a member of the national team after 2 years: “At first I was playing table tennis, but after four months, one of the sporting authorities in my province said that I have strong hands and that I could be more successful in athletics. Therefore, I chose javelin throw, and that very year I achieved two gold medals in Iran’s championship competitions in Mashhad.”
Sedghi says she had good training and she is hoping to get a medal for her country: “The world record in women’s javelin throw in paralympics is 670 centimetres and my personal best in training was 646. However, with the focused training I’ve had I hope I can get a good medal for my country in the Paralympic games.”
- Another of Iran’s women shooters, Sareh Javanmardi, will compete in the women’s 10m air rifle in London 2012 Paralympic games. Javanmardi has been active across many disabled sports disciplines but shooting is her main passion: “I’ve been shooting for four and a half years and for three and a half years I’ve been on the national team”. Javanmardi has won several medals in international competitions and hopes she can perform well in London too.
But Javanmardi has one resonant request: “The sporting authorities need to stop discrimination against paralympians because paralympians have tried harder than olympians to achieve such successes anyway”.