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

David Boudia adjusts diving event, goal for world championships

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David Boudia earned diving medals at his last three world championships and the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, but that was on the platform. He competes on the global stage on the springboard for the first time at worlds this week.

“I don’t have a lot of high hopes,” Boudia, who is still learning the springboard after switching to it in the last year, said in a phone interview from South Korea, where he begins competition Wednesday (TV schedule here). “But I think my biggest goal is to walk away with an Olympic spot.”

An Olympic spot not necessarily for himself, but for the U.S.

Boudia, a 30-year-old father of three, and any other American will clinch 2020 Olympic quota spots by placing in the top 12 in their respective individual events this week. Those spots, and any others earned at later competitions in the next year, will be filled at trials in June in Indianapolis.

NBC Sports analyst Cynthia Potter believes Boudia, who left the sport to sell homes in 2017 and came back and suffered a concussion off the platform in 2018, can meet his goal of making Friday’s 12-man final in Gwangju.

“He would have to dive well, but not better than he’s been diving,” she said. “His springboard is really well-timed, rhythmic, and he’s for a long time known how to go into the water without making a splash.”

But challenging Rio Olympic gold and silver medalists Cao Yuan of China and Jack Laugher of Great Britain, plus defending world champion Xie Siyi of China would be very tough.

Boudia lacks their degrees of difficulty, for now. He hopes to switch out two of his six dives before his first competition of 2020, though he could insert one of them should he make the world final.

“I need a good six months, so from August to December is when we’re kind of really drilling the fundamentals of learning those new dives and getting them perfected,” he said.

Boudia rallied to beat Rio Olympic springboard diver Michael Hixon for the title in May at nationals, where the top two per event earned world berths. But Boudia competed there with about a month of competition dive practice, about half as long as he would prefer.

“Hix and I are going to have a lot of training to do if we want to be even close to cracking that top five,” at worlds, Boudia said in May, according to TeamUSA.org.

Boudia is the lone U.S. diver to earn an individual world medal in an Olympic diving event since 2009.

The U.S. produced breakthroughs at worlds so far. Sarah Bacon became the first American woman to earn a world title since 2005, taking the non-Olympic 1m springboard event. Murphy Bromberg and Katrina Young bagged bronze in synchronized platform, ending a decade-long medal drought in any synchro event.

But Boudia’s goal must be shared among the whole team — as many top-12 finishes individually and top three in synchro events to gobble up Tokyo 2020 quota spots. The U.S. failed to qualify full teams for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

“Getting in the top 12 in the four individual Olympic events is the big deal right now,” Potter said. “Whether you are on the awards stand or not, that would be icing on the cake for a lot of these divers.”

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MORE: Diving Worlds TV Schedule

Anita Wlodarczyk, one of track and field’s most dominant, sidelined

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Poland hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk, the only woman to win the last five combined Olympic and world titles in a track and field event, will not go for a fourth straight world championship this fall.

Wlodarczyk had season-ending, arthroscopic left knee surgery on Monday, according to Polish media citing her coach.

Wlodarczyk, 33, has the top 15 throws on the IAAF’s all-time list, and 27 of the top 29. Her world record of 82.98 meters (scribbled on her leg pre-op) is 11 and a half feet farther the second-best woman in history. She originally took silver at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds but was upgraded to gold after Russian Tatyana Lysenko was stripped for doping.

Wlodarczyk won a reported 42 straight finals between 2014 and 2017, then suffered three losses in 2018 and two so far this year in three lower-level meets before the operation.

Americans DeAnna Price and Brooke Anderson rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year. A U.S. woman has never finished in the top five of an Olympic or world championships hammer throw, which debuted at worlds in 1999 and the Olympics in 2000.

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