x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Throwing for history

The Iranian athletes are aiming to bring home a first ever medal in athletics from this year's Olympic Games.

Ehsan Hadadi celebrates his win in the men's discus throw finals at the 15th Asian Games in Doha.
Ehsan Hadadi celebrates his win in the men's discus throw finals at the 15th Asian Games in Doha.

TEHRAN // Twelve years ago, an Iranian schoolboy named Ehsan Hadadi took aim at goal in a school handball match and threw the ball with such power it broke the goalpost. His stunned sports teacher, Mr Garshasbi, was suitably impressed. "You must take part in a throwing sport," he advised. Hadadi turned to the most ancient throwing discipline - the discus - and after years of hard work to perfect his extraordinary talent, he is one of the favourites to win gold at the Beijing Olympics.

Iran have never gone close to winning a medal of any colour in athletics since the country's first appearance in the Olympics of 1948 and the responsibility resting on Hadadi's broad shoulders is huge. "I've always loved throwing ever since I was a child. Even when we went to the Caspian Sea, I threw rocks into the sea," he said as he took a break from one of his training sessions at Tehran's Azadi stadium.

Hadadi has already made history by becoming the first Iranian to win a medal at a global athletics championships when he took gold at the 2004 World Junior Championships. He then won gold at the 2006 Asian Games. "Every step I make closer to winning a medal I become happier," he said. "If I achieve my own personal best I will win a medal and I will have a lion's heart. "If I win a medal one of the people on the top of the thank you list will be Mr Garshasbi, my fifth grade gym teacher."

Iran has only managed to win medals in wrestling, weightlifting and taekwondo. A medal in athletics would mark a breakthrough in a sport traditionally dominated by Western countries and Africa. The devoutly religious Hadadi, who, like the overwhelming majority of Iranians is a Shiite Muslim, earned some controversy at the Asian Games in Qatar by wearing a religious slogan on his competition vest. The inscription read "Ya Hossein" - a reference to the third imam of Shiite Islam who was massacred along with his followers at the battle of Karbala, an event still mourned by Shiites around the world.

He received a warning from the Asian Games organisers that athletes cannot adorn their kit with religious slogans. H owever Hadadi is prepared for any eventuality. "Nike has designed four kits for me, two of them with 'Ya Hossein' and the other two without it." * Reuters