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Abali (Iran) (AFP) – Iranian Atefeh Ahmadi learned to ski soon after she was able to walk, but the road to the Winter Olympics was not smooth for the 21-year-old.
The only Iranian woman to qualify for the Beijing Games, Ahmadi told AFP she was only three years old when her parents put her on skis for the first time.
“I was so small, I didn’t understand what these pieces of wood were for, but I learned,” said the athlete, from Abali, east of Tehran.
Her father had been a member of the national ski team and coach of the women’s team, and it was initially her older sister Hadis who was trained to conquer the slopes.
But it wasn’t long before Ahmadi’s natural talent became his own Olympic dream.
“When (Hadis) started her first competitions, I was crying because I wanted to follow her,” Ahmadi said.
One of the souvenirs her sister brought back from the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics in Austria was the Games badge.
“That’s when I started dreaming about the Olympics. I remember as a child clumsily drawing the five Olympic rings on the back of my notebook,” Ahmadi said.
“I convinced myself that I would participate, without really knowing what the Games were like.”
“I only had my will”
She said international contestants were often shocked when they learned she was from Iran.
“They ask me if we have snow… They think we are a desert country like Saudi Arabia,” the skier said.
“But even in summer you can practice the sport at Damavand or Alamkouh, glaciers that rise to 5,600 meters (over 18,000 feet).”
They are also “surprised to learn that women are skiing in an Islamic country”, she added.
“I tell them that religion does not prevent women from playing sports.”
Iran has several ski resorts, open to both sexes. Those closest to Tehran are popular winter and weekend family getaways.
At the age of 10 Ahmadi traveled to Kazakhstan for her first competition abroad and at 16 she joined the national team.
“When I made my debut at the World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, I realized that I had to fight to compete with the best,” she said.
“They had the financial means, I only had my will.”
Ahmadi’s first big disappointment came ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I was extremely motivated. I was 17 and I wanted to make history, to be the youngest Iranian skier to go to the Olympics,” she said.
But the committee did not select her, saying she was too young.
“I was devastated. I cried for two weeks. I wanted to stop skiing,” she said.
“Two months later, I got up and started training again. I wanted to show everyone what I was capable of despite my age.”
Ahmadi said she wanted to complete her father’s “unfinished journey” after a lack of funds forced him to quit professional sport.
In 2019, she finished 46th in the slalom at the world championships and finished in exactly the same place in 2021.
One of three Iranian women set to compete in Beijing, she has become something of an icon in her village and hopes to set an example for other young women.
“I was born in a traditional town where there aren’t many professional female athletes,” she said.
“A girl from our region who reaches the biggest sports arena in the world can be a role model.”
© 2022 AFP