Morteza Mehrzad
Rio 2016/Paulo Mumia

An 8-foot Iranian is turning heads while sitting at Rio Paralympics

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Morteza Mehrzad is not just the tallest athlete at the Paralympics. He’s the tallest person in all of Iran.

Mehrzad stands 8 feet, 1 inch. But he is far shorter while playing his sport — sitting volleyball for the Iranian team at the Rio Games.

At age 16, while already clear of 6 feet tall, Mehrzad fell off his bike and suffered a pelvis injury. It caused his right leg to stop growing, so it is now about six inches shorter than his left leg, according to Rio 2016.

Mehrzad, now 28, was noticed by an Iran sitting volleyball coach while appearing on TV about five years ago.

Mehrzad picked up the sport and in March made his first appearance for the national team at a major competition.

“We gave him reason to hope, and he wanted it, of course,” Iran coach Hadi Rezaei said Saturday, according to The New York Times. “I will tell you a key word that he used himself. Before he became famous, when he came out of the house, everybody looked at him very strangely. And then now that he’s famous, when he comes out, everyone wants to take a picture. He became a champion.”

Mehrzad had four successful spikes in 10 attempts in Iran’s first match Saturday, a sweep of China, but he didn’t play at all in the first or third set, according to Rio 2016 and The New York Times.

“We’re not going to show all our cards at the same time,” Rezaei said, according to Rio 2016. “We are going step by step, but we are training him to be the best in the world in two years’ time.”

The Paralympic tournament includes eight teams split into four groups, with the top two per group advancing to the medal round.

Iran has won gold or silver in men’s sitting volleyball at the last seven Paralympics.

MORE: Rio Paralympics broadcast schedule

Photos via Rio 2016/Paulo Mumia:

Morteza Mehrzad

Morteza Mehrzad

Morteza Mehrzad

Morteza Mehrzad

USA Hockey to start reaching out to potential replacement players

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USA Hockey will begin reaching out to “alternate players” to determine their interest in playing for the U.S. at the women’s world championship next week amid a potential boycott by its national team.

The contact is taking place in the event a resolution cannot be reached between USA Hockey and the women’s national team in a wage dispute.

“It’s important for everyone to understand clearly that our objective is to have the players we named as the U.S. women’s national team be the ones that compete in the world championship,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, in a statement. “Productive conversations have taken place this week and are ongoing in our collective efforts to reach a resolution.”

The alternate players are in the professional NWHL and college, according to USA Today, a report that USA Hockey would not confirm.

U.S. captain Meghan Duggan has said every player in the U.S. national team player pool, plus under-18 national team players, committed to not playing at worlds unless the wage dispute is resolved.

“We are confident that they [potential replacement players] would choose not to play,” the U.S. players said in a statement.

The world championship tournament starts March 31 in Plymouth, Mich.

As of Thursday evening, no resolution has come between USA Hockey and its women’s national team. They met formally on Monday for more than 10 hours, with both sides calling it productive.

“We ask that they approve the original agreement that, the players believed, was acceptable to both parties after Monday’s meeting,” the players said in a statement. “Unless there is an agreement, the players remain resolved to bypass the defense of the world championship.”

Neither side has said when the next meeting will take place.

On Tuesday, USA Hockey said it postponed a pre-worlds camp that was to run through next Tuesday in Traverse City, Mich., and canceled a scheduled Friday exhibition against Finland.

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MORE: NHL asked for decision on Olympics by end of April

NHL asked for decision on Olympics by end of April

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International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel tells The Associated Press he needs to know by the end of April whether NHL players will be cleared to play in the South Korea Olympics next year.

NHL team owners have made it clear they don’t want to stop their season again for the Winter Games and put their stars at risk of injury. The reluctance has come up before and yet the NHL has participated in the Olympics since 1998. This time, however, there seems to be an impasse.

The head of the NHL Players Association, Donald Fehr, says the players want to participate and hopes the league will take advantage of the chance to market the game in Asia.

However, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says without “material change to the current status quo, NHL players will not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics.”

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MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set