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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, qualifies for Tokyo Olympics

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan flag bearer who went viral for his shirtless, oiled-up Opening Ceremony entrances in Rio and PyeongChang, said he has qualified for a third straight Olympics.

Taufatofua won an Oceania continental Olympic taekwondo qualifier. He benefited from there being just one other entrant in his weight division for the one available Olympic spot.

“We’re going to Tokyo,” Taufatofua said in a text message, confirming the final score was 20-4 against Papua New Guinea’s Steven Tommy. World Taekwondo Oceania confirmed Taufatofua won. A document from a martial arts results website also listed Taufatofua having won.

Taufatofua clinched a quota spot not for himself, but for Tonga in Tokyo. Taufatofua, competing a month after fracturing a rib, said before the qualifier that he would receive Tonga’s Olympic spot if he won. A Tonga Olympic official responded late Friday to a question asking if Taufatofua gets the quota spot by saying in an email, “Now we have two, one [female qualifier] and Pita.”

The largest Oceania nations, Australia and New Zealand, chose to enter taekwondo fighters in divisions other than Taufatofua’s 80kg+. A nation could enter a maximum of two fighters per gender in the tournament, which had four divisions per gender total.

Taufatofua can still reach his goal of also qualifying for Tokyo in sprint kayak, too. His best opportunity may be via tripartite commission invitation, which goes to small nations.

In his two previous Olympics, Taufatofua lost in the Rio Olympic taekwondo tournament in the first round by mercy rule. In PyeongChang, he finished 114th out of 116 in a 15km cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If he also makes it in kayak, Taufatofua will be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

Taufatofua would also be the first athlete in multiple sports at one Summer Games since 1992, when a pair competed in modern pentathlon and fencing (though fencing is also one of the five disciplines in modern pentathlon).

Furthermore, he would be the first to compete in two distinctly different sports at one Summer Games since Aristidis Roubanis threw the javelin and played for the Greek basketball team in Helsinki in 1952.

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Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Iran’s lone female Olympic medalist reportedly defects

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said she defected from the Islamic Republic in a blistering online letter that describes herself as “one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran.”

Taekwondo athlete and Rio bronze medalist Kimia Alizadeh posted the letter on Instagram after Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency said she had fled to the Netherlands. She criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf and accused officials in Iran of sexism and mistreatment.

“Whatever they said, I wore,” Alizadeh wrote in the letter posted Saturday. “Every sentence they ordered, I repeated.”

She described the decision to leave Iran as difficult, but necessary.

There was no immediate reaction from Iranian authorities. ISNA said Alizadeh had been reported injured and unable to compete. Their report suggested Alizadeh may try to compete under another nation’s flag at the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.

World Taekwondo said Friday it had not received communication from Alizadeh regarding a possible country switch.

In Rio, Alizadeh became the first Iranian woman to earn an Olympic medal. Iran’s men have won 68 medals.

“I am so happy for Iranian girls because it is the first medal, and I hope at the next Olympics we will get a gold,” she said then, according to Reuters.

Alizadeh also earned world championships medals in 2015 (bronze) and 2017 (silver), plus a 2014 Youth Olympic title.

Her defection comes amid unprecedentedly high tensions between Iran and the United States.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, Saeed Mollaei, an Iranian judoka, left the country for Germany. He said Iranian officials had forced him to not compete with Israeli judoka.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics