First Iranian woman skier ready for Canada slopes

Kalhor will compete in the Alpine slalom and giant slalom categories at the Vancouver Olympics from February 12 to 28.

“I’m thrilled to make it to the Olympics and even more honoured to be the national team’s flag bearer,” she told AFP in an interview at this northern Iranian ski resort where she grew up.

The 21-year-old is also confident she can keep Iran’s Islamic dress code when she takes part in the Games. In the Olympic village she will sport the traditional headscarf, but in competition she will dress like everyone else.

“Skiing is a sport which needs you to be fully clothed. So as far as the uniform for the competition goes, there is no problem — I’ll observe the Islamic dress code,” she said.

Kalhor, who will head a four-member Iranian team leaving on Monday, the only one from the Middle East, will follow in the footsteps of countrywoman Homa Hosseini, a rower who was Iran’s flag bearer in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The other members of the Islamic republic’s team in Canada are Porya Saveh Shemshaki and Hossein Saveh Shemshaki, competing in the men’s Alpine event, and Seyed Sattar Seyd in the cross-country.

Kalhor’s ambitions really took off when she won a national event at the age of just 11.

“I grew up here in Dizin where my family skied,” said the skier whose role model is Alpine world champion Kathrin Zettel of Austria.

“I started when I was four, but when I won first place in the national youth games at the age of 11 it inspired me.”

Skiing is not widespread in Iran, despite the country having two major mountain ranges in the north and in west. And the season is short, depending on snowfall.

Dizin, in the Alborz mountains some 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of Tehran, attracts both Iranian and foreign skiers.

It can also be dangerous. Last Thursday, an avalanche killed at least eight Iranians including a woman when it struck Dizin and nearby Shemshak.

Kalhor has seen steady success in international events, but her big moment came last year at the World Championship at Val d’Isere in France when she got enough points to qualify for the Olympics slalom.

“I was very excited, and I said to myself that I can improve my performance and qualify for other events,” Kalhor said.

Later in 2009 she managed to muster enough International Ski Federation (FIS) points in Turkey to qualify also for the giant slalom in Vancouver.

Iranians have competed nine times in the Winter Olympics since 1956, but have failed to bag any medals. The best finish was when Hassan Shemshaki came 30th in the men’s slalom in 1998 in Japan.

Kalhor is realistic about her chances, and does not expect to mount the medal winners’ podium, but she is still determined to give Vancouver her best.

“The kind of snow we compete on here in Iran is different from there. The snow on the pistes there is more packed than ours. They’re more advanced when it comes to preparing pistes,” she said.