Olympics-Alizadeh aiming for taekwondo gold with Bulgaria after fleeing Iran

FILE PHOTO: Iran’s former only female Olympic medallist Kimia Alizadeh prepares for her Taekwondo training session in Aschaffenburg, Germany, February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

By Stoyan Nenov

Kimia Alizadeh made history by becoming the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal back in 2016 and, despite since defecting and all the difficulties involved, the taekwondo athlete is now aiming for gold this year in Paris.

Alizadeh won bronze in the 57kg category in Rio but left her country in 2020 and, after competing at the Tokyo Olympics for the Refugee Olympic Team, the 25-year-old will now represent her new home, Bulgaria.

“Of course it’s hard when you leave your country and you face a lot of new things such as a new language, new culture and new people,” Alizadeh told Reuters.

“It is hard, it’s a new start. I have to start from the beginning and I had to update myself and adapt myself. Of course it’s hard but I just moved on and I went forward for my goal.”

Alizadeh missed out on a medal at the last Olympics but, after securing her place in Paris, she has high ambitions when she participates under the Bulgarian flag.

“Like every other athlete, I am targeting the gold medal in Paris which is our main goal. I wake up every day for the gold medal in Paris and I’m trying my best and I give 100% to achieve this goal,” Alizadeh said.

“Of course it was extra motivation for me after I received my Bulgarian citizenship, everything is much easier for me. Also I faced a lot of new things and I feel more responsible but, yeah, I really like it.”

kimia alizadeh
FILE PHOTO: Iran's former only female Olympic medallist Kimia Alizadeh prepares for her Taekwondo training session in Aschaffenburg, Germany, February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Alizadeh did have other offers, with the likes of Belgium and Netherlands looking for her to represent them, but in the end she went with her heart and chose Bulgaria.

“It felt like home and I really liked the warm welcome and I was really comfortable and I felt that here is my second home and I want to represent Bulgaria in my competition from now on,” she said.

Having already faced an Iranian opponent at the last Olympics, Alizadeh won’t be fazed if it happens again but said it was a strange emotion.

“It’s a weird feeling because in Tokyo I fought against Iran, and she (Nahid Kiani) was my best friend and my room-mate. It’s really a weird feeling I can’t explain it in words,” Alizadeh said.

“But this is the fight, this is the game, and every athlete is doing their best to represent their country.”

Alizadeh became a hero to Iranian women after her exploits in 2016, before leaving the country due to oppressive conditions.

Now, she can still inspire women in Iran, along with people in her adopted country, as she becomes Bulgaria’s first taekwondo Olympic athlete.

“Being a role model is hard because you feel a lot of responsibility in what you’re doing because lots of especially young people watch you and they see what are you doing and what are you saying because they want to follow your way,” she said.

“And it’s hard, it’s a lot of responsibility. And I’m always thinking I have to do the correct thing and the right thing to show them the right way.”

—Reuters

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