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

Leanne Smith leads U.S. gold medalists at para swim worlds

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Leanne Smith has never competed at a Paralympics. Came into this week’s world championships with zero world medals. But she leaves London with three individual golds, most for any American, one year before the Tokyo Games.

Smith, 21, won the 150m individual medley, 50m breaststroke and 100m freestyle in her classification, all in American record times. The last two titles came on the final day of the seven-day meet on Sunday.

Smith, diagnosed with a rare neurological muscle disease called dystonia in January 2012, began swimming in 2013. By 2017, she broke a world record and then debuted at the world championships with a best individual finish of sixth.

The U.S. finished with 35 total medals and 14 golds, ranking sixth in the overall standings. Ukraine, usually strong at the Paralympics, led the way with 55 medals. Full results are here.

Jessica Long, the second-most-decorated U.S. Paralympian in history with 23 medals, earned six this week — five silvers and a bronze — to give her 52 career world championships medals.

Two-time Paralympian Mallory Weggemann earned two golds this week, giving her 15 world titles in three appearances (her others being in 2009 and 2010).

She won 50m titles in the butterfly and freestyle. Weggemann won a 2012 Paralympic 50m free title but was fortunate just to make it back for Rio after a 2014 accident that she said was harder to come back from than her teenage paralysis. She left Rio with no medals but a resolve to return for a third Games in Tokyo.

“I’m two seconds away from bursting into tears,” Weggemann said after winning the first of her two golds in the 50m fly, according to U.S. Paralympics. “I had a really rough go these past three years since Rio, so to finally be back after busting my butt to be here, and to be here in London of all places, is absolutely incredible.”

Fellow Rio Paralympians McKenzie Coan and Robert Griswold added two golds a piece.

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MORE: Five storylines to watch for Tokyo Paralympics

Heimana Reynolds wins skateboard world title, nears an Olympic goal from age 10

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In February 2009, a 10-year-old Heimana Reynolds was profiled by his local NBC TV station on Oahu.

“My goal is to become a professional skateboarder and compete in the X Games and the Olympics,” he said, according to the report.

Skateboarding would not be added to the Olympics for another seven years. But here Reynolds is, age 21, having just won the world title in park, one of two skateboarding events that debut at the Games in Tokyo.

Reynolds, who wasn’t named to the four-man U.S. national team in March, consolidated his lead in the Olympic qualification rankings by prevailing over a pair of Brazilians in Sao Paulo on Sunday.

A shirtless Reynolds scored 88 points in the final, beating Luis Francisco (85.50) and Pedro Quintas (85).

No more than three Americans can make the Olympic team in the event, which will make it difficult if three-time Olympic halfpipe snowboarding champion Shaun White decides to continue his skateboarding pursuit. White was the sixth-best American, bowing out in the semifinals in 13th place on Saturday in just his second contest since returning to competitive skating last year.

Back to Reynolds. He grew up on the North Shore and attended the Punahou School, where Barack Obama is the most famous alum. His first name is Tahitian, reportedly referring to the power of Jesus’ crown of thorns.

Reynolds, the son of a surfer, proved a natural on land. After pre-teen media profiles, he blossomed into a world silver medalist last year. He won an Olympic qualifier in China in July to take the top spot in the Olympic rankings despite a best career X Games finish of sixth.

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