Iran sport climber Elnaz Rekabi, who competed without hijab, returns to Tehran

Elnaz Rekabi
Getty
0 Comments

Iranian competitive climber Elnaz Rekabi received a hero’s welcome on her return to Tehran early Wednesday, after competing in South Korea without wearing a mandatory headscarf required of female athletes from the Islamic Republic.

Rekabi’s decision not to wear the hijab while competing Sunday came as protests sparked by the Sept. 16 death in custody of a 22-year-old woman have entered a fifth week. Mahsa Amini was detained by the country’s morality police over her clothing — and her death has seen women removing their mandatory hijabs in public.

Supporters and Farsi-language media outside of Iran have worried about Rekabi’s safety after she choose to compete without the hijab.

Rekabi on Wednesday repeated an explanation posted earlier to an Instagram account in her name that described her not wearing a hijab as “unintentional.” The Iranian government routinely pressures activists at home and abroad, often airing what rights group describe as coerced confessions on state television — the same cameras she addressed on her arrival back home.

Video shared online showed large crowds gathered early Wednesday at Imam Khomeini International Airport outside of Tehran, the sanctioned nation’s main gateway out of the country. The videos, corresponding to known features of the airport, showed crowds chanting the 33-year-old Rekabi’s name and calling her a hero.

She walked into one of the airport’s terminals, filmed by state media and wearing a black baseball cap and a black hoodie covering her hair. She received flowers from an onlooker, and then repeated what had been posted on Instagram that not wearing the hijab was “unintentional” and her travel had been as previously planned.

Rekabi described being in a women’s only waiting area prior to her climb.

“Because I was busy putting on my shoes and my gear, it caused me to forget to put on my hijab and then I went to compete,” she said.

She added: “I came back to Iran with peace of mind although I had a lot of tension and stress. But so far, thank God, nothing has happened.”

Outside, she apparently entered a van and slowly was driven through the gathered crowd, who cheered her. It wasn’t clear where she went after that.

Rekabi left Seoul on a Tuesday morning flight. The BBC’s Persian service, which has extensive contacts within Iran despite being banned from operating there, quoted an unnamed “informed source” who described Iranian officials as seizing both Rekabi’s mobile phone and passport.

BBC Persian also said she initially had been scheduled to return on Wednesday, but her flight apparently had been moved up unexpectedly.

IranWire, another website focusing on the country founded by Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari who once was detained by Iran, alleged that Rekabi would be immediately transferred to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison after arriving in the country. Evin Prison was the site of a massive fire this past weekend that killed at least eight prisoners.

In a tweet, the Iranian Embassy in Seoul denied “all the fake, false news and disinformation” regarding Rekabi’s departure. But instead of posting a photo of her from the Seoul competition, it posted an image of her wearing a headscarf at a previous competition in Moscow, where she took a bronze medal.

Rekabi didn’t put on a hijab during Sunday’s final at the International Federation of Sport Climbing’s Asia Championship.

Rekabi wore a hijab during her initial appearances at the one-week climbing event. She wore just a black headband when competing Sunday, her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail; she had a white jersey with Iran’s flag as a logo on it.

Footage of the competition showed Rekabi relaxed as she approached the climbing and after she competed.

Iranian women competing abroad under the Iranian flag always wear the hijab.

“Our understanding is that she is returning to Iran, and we will continue to monitor the situation as it develops on her arrival,” the International Federation of Sport Climbing, which oversaw the event, said in a statement. “It is important to stress that athletes’ safety is paramount for us and we support any efforts to keep a valued member of our community safe in this situation.”

The federation said it had been in touch with both Rekabi and Iranian officials, but declined to elaborate on the substance of those calls when reached by The Associated Press. The federation also declined to discuss the Instagram post attributed to Rekabi and the claims in it.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry acknowledged the departures of the Iranian athlete and her team from the country without elaborating. On Wednesday, a small group of protesters demonstrated in front of Iran’s Embassy in Seoul, with some women cutting off locks of their hair like others have in demonstrations worldwide since Amini’s death.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Rosie MacLennan, Olympic trampoline legend, retires

Rosie MacLennan
Getty
0 Comments

Canadian Rosie MacLennan, the lone person to win two Olympic trampoline gold medals, announced her retirement at age 34.

“After 10 World Championships and 4 Olympic Games, it is time for me to hang up my shiny spandex,” she posted on social media. “Trampoline has been such an integral part of my life and sport will continue to be, even if my role in sport is changing. My experience as an athlete has exceeded even my wildest childhood dreams.”

MacLennan won Olympic titles in 2012 and 2016 in an event that debuted at the 2000 Sydney Games. She was fourth at her last Olympics in Tokyo. MacLennan, Canada’s flag bearer at the 2016 Olympic Opening Ceremony, also earned world titles in 2013 and 2018 among seven world medals overall.

MacLennan came back from two concussions in 2015 — over-rotating a jump in training and later when she was accidentally hit on the head by a car trunk — to win her second Olympic title. She came back from an April 2019 broken ankle to reach her fourth Olympics.

MacLennan, who qualified for her first world age group competition at age 11, spent more than 26 years in the sport.

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Jessie Diggins ties U.S. record for World Cup cross-country skiing wins

0 Comments

Jessie Diggins tied Kikkan Randall‘s U.S. record with her 13th career individual cross-country skiing World Cup victory, taking a 10km freestyle in Lillehammer, Norway, on Friday.

Diggins, the most decorated U.S. Olympic cross-country skier with a medal of every color, prevailed by 3.8 seconds over German Katharina Hennig in the interval start event. Diggins trailed Hennig by one second at the 8.2-kilometer split, then made up 4.8 seconds over the final four minutes of the course.

“My fitness and brain were in a really good place,” Diggins said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “When I asked my body to go deep into the pain cave, it responded.”

Diggins tied the record of Randall, who in 2007 became the first U.S. woman to win a World Cup cross-country skiing race and ended her career by teaming with Diggins to win the first U.S. Olympic cross-country skiing title at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. (Another skier, Alison Owen-Spencer, won a race in 1978 that U.S. Ski and Snowboard counts as a World Cup, but the International Ski Federation does not.)

Diggins opened this World Cup season last weekend in Ruka, Finland, with a best finish of 10th among three races. She trended up each day, finishing that stop with the second-fastest time in last Sunday’s individual pursuit (where she started 19th).

Diggins, 31, has spread out her goals this season. One of the biggest is helping the U.S. win a relay medal for the first time at the world championships in three months. Diggins has been a part of relays that finished fourth at four different worlds.

She also eyes the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport that goes to the best all-around skier for the season. In 2020-21, Diggins became the second American — and first American woman — to win the overall in a season where Norway’s top skiers, including superstar Therese Johaug, skipped early season races and chances to gain points for the overall title.

Johaug retired after winning three individual golds at last February’s Olympics. Diggins is the top returning skier given the absence of reigning overall champ Natalya Nepryayeva, who cannot compete due to the ban on Russian athletes for the war in Ukraine.

The World Cup season continues with a freestyle sprint on Saturday and a classic 20km mass start on Sunday in Lillehammer.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!