Paris 2024 Olympics 100m: Farzaneh Fasihi – Iran's record-breaking sprinter | Paris Olympics 2024 news

It is 2021, in Konya, Türkiye, the fifth edition of the Islamic Solidarity Games.

Farzaneh Fassihi's heart is pounding as she crouches in her position on the start line, the effects of the Covid-19 infection still looming over her.

His chest hurts, but he is determined to compete.

The starter's gun goes off, and she sprints forward as fast as she can, her legs moving faster than ever before.

As she crosses the finish line, she collapses; not from exhaustion, but from the sheer emotion of having won the silver medal, breaking her own 100m sprint record in a lightning-fast 11.12 seconds.

“The night before the race, memories of my life flood my mind. All the hardships I've faced and all my successes pass before my eyes like a film reel,” Fasihi told Al Jazeera in a Zoom interview from Belgrade, Serbia. She is in a training camp ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympics, which start on 26 July, and where Iran's fastest ever female sprinter will compete in her favourite event, the 100m sprint.

Challenges are nothing new for Fasihi, but a strong support system in her personal life has helped her overcome all these challenges.

Iranian runner Farzaneh Fasihi.
Iran's Farzaneh Fasihi won the silver medal in the 100m at the 5th Islamic Solidarity Games in Konya, Turkey on August 09, 2022. [Mustafa Ciftci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

“I did not mean to do it”

Born in 1993 in Isfahan, Iran, Fasihi, 31, comes from an athletic family. Her father was a volleyball player and her brother was a swimming and diving champion.

“My father used to attend all my training sessions before I got married. My mother also attended all my competitions. Without their support, I wouldn't have been able to succeed,” she recalls.

From the age of five until she was 12, Fasihi did gymnastics. She recalls how her first foray into competitive sprinting was more by chance than plan.

Fasihi recalls, “In middle school, my gym teacher forced me to participate in a running competition. I didn't want to do it.” That day, she broke the Isfahan provincial record, igniting her passion for track and field.

In 2016, he made his international debut.

Fasihi's team performed better than expectations, winning a silver medal in the 4×400 metres relay at the Asia Indoor Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar.

But her exceptional performances did not take her sprinting career to new heights. With little support from the Iranian Track and Field Federation, she left everything behind and became a personal fitness trainer.

That all changed in late 2018, when he decided to give competitive sprinting a second try.

A year later, that decision had an unexpected consequence: She married one of her coaches, Amir Hosseini, who has been her biggest supporter.

Farzaneh Fasihi Iranian runner
Farzaneh Fasihi during a training session with coach and husband Amir Hosseini at Aftab Enghelab Sports Complex in Tehran, Iran [Maryam Majd ATPImages via Getty Images]
Farzaneh Fasihi Iranian runner
Fasihi constantly works on her technique and strength, which is essential for a great 100m runner. Athlete training facilities in Iran are not up to the same standards as other countries that invest heavily in sports [Maryam Majd ATP Images via Getty Images]

In 2020, with a support structure now firmly in place with Hosseini at the helm, Fasihi's career really began to take off.

He competed at the World Athletics Indoor Championships, where the relatively unknown sprinter set the track ablaze with a sensational entry record time of 7.29 seconds in the 60m race held in Belgrade, Serbia.

Fasihi had made history not only by recording a very fast time – but also by becoming the first Iranian woman to compete at the championships. Her stunning performance in Belgrade was the reason she was first given the nickname “Jaguar”, a testament to her fierce speed off the starting blocks.

A year later, in 2021, she signed with Serbian athletics club BAK, becoming the first female legionnaire in Iran's track and field history – effectively meaning that a club contracts and sponsors a foreign athlete to move and compete for them.

“Becoming a legionnaire was a new path. It was a big risk, but I felt deep inside that I had to do it,” she said, hoping it would inspire other Iranian female athletes.

Setting the record straight – this is 'for the people'

In 2023, Fasihi would win gold in the 60-meter dash at the Asian Indoor Athletics Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan, clocking an impressive 7.28 seconds.

While that personal best was outstanding and celebratory – setting a new Asian record in the 60m is usually cause for wild celebrations – this day will be remembered for something much more profound.

As Fasihi walked up to the podium, she turned directly to the camera and shouted: “For the people of Iran. For the happiness of the people of Iran!”

His moment of protest went viral on social media, in which Fasihi refused to raise the Iranian flag and instead bowed his head and shed silent tears and refused to sing the national anthem on the victory stage.

This was his statement, or way, of expressing the tragedy of the young Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, who collapsed and died in 2022, reportedly after being detained by Iran’s morality police for wearing an “improper hijab” (headscarf).

Amini's death made international news headlines and inspired women activists around the world through the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement.

Iranian runner Farzaneh Fasihi.
Fasihi has broken the Iranian 60 and 100 meter sprinting records on several occasions and is currently the number one ranked sprinter in Asia for 60 meters. She lives and trains in the capital Tehran [Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters]

Olympic dream

Two years ago, Fasihi took the first step towards her Olympic dream when she was selected to participate at Tokyo 2020 through a so-called universality placement.

Universality placement is a policy set by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that allows athletes from underrepresented nations to participate even if they do not meet the standard qualifying criteria. This policy exists to ensure broad global representation and inclusivity at the Olympic Games.

In Tokyo, Fasihi competed in the 100-metre sprint event, marking Iran's return to the event after a 57-year hiatus. At the 1964 Summer Olympics, also in Tokyo, Simin Safamehr made history as the first female athlete to represent Iran at the Games, incidentally competing in the 100-metre sprint event as well as the long jump.

Fasihi finished 50th in Tokyo, facing criticism for her hijab, sparking debate on Iranian social media as some claimed the strict dress code slowed her down, hampered her performance and limited her media appearances and sponsorship opportunities.

But the Tokyo Olympics were also a chance for her to meet her sprinting idol, Jamaican track and field superstar Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. “I liked her even more when we met. Her lifestyle is impressive as she is both a professional athlete, a wife and mother and helps many charities.”

For Fasihi, his performance in Tokyo was less than his best – but it only fuelled his ambition to do better next time around.

“What makes Paris special? [2024 Olympics] “The difference for me is that I will compete on the basis of my own merit – not on the basis of universality,” Fasihi told Al Jazeera.

Female runner Farzaneh Fasihi is leading the race.
Fasihi leads the heats for the women's 100m at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which will be held in 2021 due to COVID-19. She is happy to have qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympics on merit, rather than relying on an exception for under-represented countries. [Matthias Schrader/AP]

Despite systemic challenges, particularly the lack of official government support for top female athletes in Iran, Fasihi is determined to achieve her goals. She funds her own training, participates in competitions, and is working to secure modest sponsorships.

Fasihi believes massive investment in sports by countries such as China, India and Japan will lead to impressive results in Asian athletics, but he also noted the disparity in resources across the continent.

“For example, athletes in Qatar work with American coaches and the federation invites analysts, physiotherapists and sports medicine doctors from around the world. Even China and Japan coordinate training camps in Florida. [in the United States],” He said.

In May 2024, Fasihi competed in the Doha Diamond League 100m race, but finished last in the final against a line-up of star runners from the United States, the United Kingdom, Hungary and Jamaica.

She will be competing against the best athletes in the world at the Paris Olympics. She is not someone who has unrealistic expectations. She focuses only on what she can control – and that is her performance.

“Participating in the Olympics is a great challenge,” Fasihi said. “My goal is to compete against myself. I want to break my own record.”

Farzaneh Fasihi Iranian runner
Fasihi hopes to achieve more personal bests at Paris 2024 Olympics [Maryam Majd/ ATP Images via Getty Images]

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