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Golden run for Iranian sports as young stars bring medals, laurels to country

By Syed Zafar Mehdi

In a high-adrenaline, closely-contested summit clash in Manama on Sunday, Iran’s young volleyball team routed defending champions Italy in a thrilling five-setter to lift the FIVB Volleyball Men's U21 World Championship title in front of an exuberant and cheering crowd.

Chasing history, the Iranian team clinched the first set 25-20 before Italy bounced strongly to claim the second and third sets 23-25 and 23-25 respectively, after which Iran made a comeback with 25-16.

With both sides pocketing two sets each, the fifth and final set was up for grabs. Buoyed by the tremendous crowd support, boys from the Islamic Republic prevailed in the end with a 15-9 scoreline, riding on the spectacular performances of Amir Mohammad Golzadeh and Poriya Hossein Firouzjah.

Golzadeh, with two aces, two kill blocks, and 16 spiking points, was declared player of the tournament.

“I thank God. I am so happy to win this world championship trophy,” Golzadeh was quoted as saying after the historic win. “I wish the best to the Italian team. They played very well tonight in the final. We are a very good team. We know our potential and some of our stars can join the senior team.”

It was the second championship title for Iran, after its maiden crown in 2019 when it defeated the formidable Italy in the finals. Italy again qualified for the title clash in 2021 and prevailed over Russia.

Iran’s first appearance in the marquee volleyball competition was in 1993 when it ended up in the 9th place. In the next edition of the biennial tournament in 1995, Iran’s team failed to qualify.

In the subsequent editions, Iran’s team would start well but fail to make headway, except in 2007 when it grabbed a bronze medal in Morocco after beating Italy 3-1 for a third-place finish.

Golden run for Iranian sports

It has been a golden run for Iranian sports this week, with teams and individual athletes in different disciplines romping home with medals and bringing laurels to their country.

Parallel to the U-21 volleyball’s team historic feat, the Iranian women's U-16 basketball team also made history by being the runner-up in FIBA U-16 Women's Asian Championship 2023-Division B.

The Iranian team lost to the Philippines in the title clash on Sunday but impressed all and sundry with their performances throughout the tournament, including the thrilling semifinal against Hong Kong.

Ghazal Dehyaghoubi was declared the Top Performer of the tournament played in Jordan with 21.8 points, followed by her teammate Helya Houdneh with 20.4, both showcasing their mettle.

It was the best finish for the young Iranian basketball team. The previous best was a fourth-place finish in 2017, which shows the progress by leaps and bounds. 

A day before the young men’s volleyball and women’s basketball teams made history, Iran’s U-20 Greco-Roman wrestling team grabbed 10 medals, including 5 gold, to become the Asian champions.

The young wrestlers claimed 5 gold, 1 silver and 4 bronze medals to lift the U-20 Asian Wrestling Championship title in the Jordanian capital of Amman. Uzbekistan ended up as the runner-up.

Before the U-20 team’s impressive feat, the U-15 Greco-Roman wrestling team also won the Asian Wrestling Championship in Amman, claiming three gold, three silver and two bronze medals.

On Friday, Iran's para-athlete Saeid Afrooz shattered a world record with a 40.27-meter throw in the men's F34 javelin event to take the podium at the 2023 Para Athletics World Championships in Paris. 

It was Afrooz’s first world title and he will now be eyeing gold at the next year’s Paralympic Games.

A video of him prostrating on the track in Paris after winning the gold became immediately viral on social media, with many netizens lauding his historic feat in a cut-throat international competition.

Iranian para-athletes brought more laurels to the country this week with their superlative performances.

Shot putter Rashid Masjedi grabbed a gold medal in Men's Shot Put F53 event with an impressive throw of 8.49 meters, confirming his participation in Paris 2023 Paralympics.

Mehdi Olad also claimed gold in the men’s Shot Put F11 event with a throw of 13.79 meters. He backed it up with a silver medal in the discus throw F11 event with a throw of 43.73 meters.

Shot putter Yasin Khosravi won another gold for Iran in the men’s F57 category at the championships on Sunday with a shot of 16.01 meters, setting a new record in the category. 

On Thursday, the International Wushu Federation (IWUF) named female Iranian athlete Diana Rahimi as the Wushu Sanda Rising Star of the Year 2022.

With 23,331 votes, the Iranian Wushu star topped the list, followed by Egypt’s Malak Osama Abdelal.

On Sunday, Iran’s Greco-Roman wrestling team competing in the Hungary Ranking Series claimed two gold, one silver and two bronze medals to take the third position.

Jubilations and commendations

Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, in a message on Monday congratulated Iran's junior volleyball team on its stupendous victory in the world championships.

"Dear young champions of Iran’s volleyball team, You have made the Iranian people happy with your good performance. I thank all of you," read the message.

President Ebrahim Raeisi, in a statement issued by his office late on Sunday, congratulated the men’s U-21 volleyball team for winning the world championships for the second time. 

Iran's sports minister Sayed Hamid Sajjadi in a statement also commended the young volleyball team and medal winners in other disciplines and said it points to the bright future of Iranian sports.

In a tweet on Sunday, Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian commended the young Iranian teams for their accomplishments in international tournaments, congratulating all Iranians.

Nasser Kanaani, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, also took to Twitter to laud the incredible feats of young volleyball, basketball and wrestling teams, terming it an “honor” for the nation.

Many other top officials, including parliament speaker Baqer Qalibaf and vice president Mohammad Mokhber congratulated the volleyball team and other athletes. 

Social media has also been flooded with congratulatory messages over the past few days from sports enthusiasts both in and outside Iran, describing it as a “golden run” for Iranian sports.

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