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Soulmaz Abbasi Azad (centre) at the OCA camp.
Soulmaz – the heart and soul of Iranian rowing

14 Oct 2016
Pattaya, Thailand, October 14, 2016: Women in Sport is one of the most important issues in the Olympic Movement, both at the global and continental levels. The IOC and OCA need role models to inspire the next generation and promote gender equality across all fields of sport, from the start line of the competition to the boardroom of the executive office.

In Asia, and specifically in Iran, look no further than Soulmaz Abbasi Azad, a London Olympian, multiple Asian Games medalist and now the bright and determined coach for the country’s junior rowing team.

Soulmaz, 32, is among a 10-strong delegation from Iran for the OCA youth training camp and the Asian Rowing Federation junior training camp here in Pattaya, Thailand. There are two female coaches and eight athletes, seven of them female, and the speed and efficiency of the Iranian team could be seen on the first morning when the participants focused on rigging the expensive new boats and preparing them for training.

The first two boats on the Bang Pai Reservoir were both decorated with the Iranian flag on the oars, and occupied by two pairs of Iranian athletes, as the team quickly demonstrated their expertise off and on the water.

For coach Soulmaz it was just another day in the boatyard, as she has adjusted happily to life as junior national team coach after experiencing the glamour of the London Olympics, representing Iran in the women’s single sculls, and winning three bronze medals at two Asian Games in lightweight rowing events.

“I am so hopeful about these girls here with me that, after one year or one and a half years, they can become senior athletes and can compete in Indonesia,” she said, referring to the next Asian Games in Jakarta-Palembang in 2018. Before selecting her junior squad, Soulmaz asked them all a simple question.

“I asked them if they liked it or not, if they were interested in rowing. This was very important for me because, as a junior athlete, it is about more than medals. It is about being active, being fresh and healthy and enjoying yourself.”

Soulmaz took up rowing seven years ago and was in the national team for over five years. After her second Asian Games, at Incheon, Korea, in 2014 she admitted she lost her drive for training and for even getting into the boat, so walked away from the sport.

“I thought I would like to be a coach many years ago but I did not have the chance,” she says. “After the Incheon Asian Games I was one year at home and not involved in rowing. Then our president in the federation suggested to come and work with the juniors.

“I thought it was a good way to come back to rowing and, after one month, I was interested to make more attention to the job. I like to have this kind of challenge.” The results can be seen at the OCA camp, as a new generation of female Iranian rowers try and emulate their coach through the Asian Games, Youth Olympic Games and all the way to the Olympics.
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