Kimia Alizadeh: the YOG star flying the flag for female athletes in Iran
After winning taekwondo gold at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Nanjing 2014, Iran’s Kimia Alizadeh strengthened her reputation as one of the sport’s rising stars with an historic bronze medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, the first time an Iranian woman has ever reached the podium.
While the headlines may have gone to Great Britain’s Jade Jones for her second successive gold in the women’s taekwondo -57kg division, Alizadeh’s feat was equally as impressive given the cultural obstacles the 18-year-old has had to overcome. Conservative religious traditions in Iranian society mean that many women don’t pursue careers in sport, but with taekwondo enabling Muslim women to cover up while participating – in keeping with the customs of the faith – Alizadeh was free to take up the martial art. It became evident early on that she would go far.
In 2014, she was selected as Iran’s flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony of the Nanjing YOG, going on to win gold in the -63kg division. A year later, the taekwondo world stood up and took notice as Alizadeh first beat reigning Olympic champion Jade Jones in the quarter-finals of the World Championships on her way to a bronze medal, before overcoming the Welshwoman again to clinch gold at the World Grand Prix Series in Moscow.
Her passage to Rio was sealed with another gold medal-winning performance at the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament in Manila (Philippines), and such was the Iranian’s confidence in her own abilities that she headed to Brazil with ambitions of winning a medal, despite still being a teenager and competing at her first Games.
But Alizadeh was dealt something of a reality check in the quarter-finals, bowing out to eventual silver medallist Eva Calvo Gomez of Spain 8-7 after beating Ana Zaninovic of Croatia in the round of 16 – an early lesson that when it comes to competitiveness, the Olympic Games cannot be matched.
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Nevertheless, she recovered superbly from this initial setback, powering past Phannapa Harnsujin of Thailand 14-10 in the repechage to book her place in the bronze medal bout against Sweden’s Nikita Glasnovic. With history beckoning, Alizadeh answered ably with a 5-1 win, a landmark achievement both for herself and for all Iranian sportswomen.
“I am so happy for Iranian girls because it is the first medal and I hope at the next Olympic Games we will get a gold,” she said after the victory.
“I am very excited and I want to thank my parents and my coach. They really stand behind me and I am so happy.”