Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin, the first female Iranian athlete to win an Olympic medal and who is now representing the Refugee Team at the Tokyo Games, missed out on an opportunity to clinch a medal on Sunday.
Zenoorin, 23, fled Iran to find refuge in Germany in 2020. One year later, she came close to winning the Refugee Olympic Team’s first-ever medal.
Her journey in Japan has been as incredible as the years leading up to it. In the first round of women’s -57kg taekwondo category, she had to overcome the challenge of Iran's Nahid Kiyani Chandeh on Sunday.
Zenoorin made a strong start in her quest for a second Olympic medal. She won against her former compatriot 18-9. She then defeated Team GB’s reigning double Olympic champion Jade Jones.
After a tight match with Jones, Zenoorin - bronze medallist at Rio 2016 - advanced to the quarter-finals to face Asian champion Lijun Zhou of China. The match ended 9-8 in favour of Zenoorin.
However in the semi-final, Zenoorin lost to Tatiana Minima from the Russian Olympic Committee 10-3.
While the Iranian refugee's dream of an Olympic gold ended, she still had a chance to end up on the podium. However, Zenoorin ultimately lost to Turkey's Hatice Kubra Ilgun in the bronze medal match.
Success would have been special for Zenoorin who, at the time of leaving Iran in 2020, published a long goodbye message to the people of Iran on her Instagram account. In her post, she explained why she took the decision to flee and live as a homeless, which was “harder than winning an Olympic medal”.
“I am one of the millions of repressed women in Iran who have been playing games for years,” she wrote, “I wore whatever they said. I repeated every sentence they ordered."
She ended her message saying: “But wherever I am, I will remain a child of Iran. I give back to your encouragement and I have no desire other than your trust in the difficult path I have taken."
Zenoorin took up the sport at the age of seven because her local gym back in Iran offered only one option - taekwondo. Luckily, her childhood coach saw her as a potential Olympic champion.
Success followed quickly as she won gold in Nanjing 2014 Youth Summer Olympic Games. Two years later, she made history in Rio.
“Today was a special day for the Iranian team”, said Azadeh Pikaroh, an Iranian journalist, after the match between Zenoorin and Chandeh on Sunday. “We love them both, Kimia is a national pride and Kiyani has done her best”.
According to Pikaroh, Chandeh’s current coach Mehro Kamrani was Zenoorin's childhood mentor and the person who helped her win bronze in Rio.
“They are best friends”, said Pikaroh. “It was tough for Kiyani because of this situation. It was definitely something exceptional to happen, having two Iranians compete against each other in the first round, we have mixed feelings."