Hours after making her Olympic debut, Iranian archer Zahra Nemati carried her country’s flag in the opening ceremony. It’s the start of a busy couple of months for Nemati in Rio de Janeiro. She’ll be pulling double duty and will be back next month for the Paralympics, where she’s the defending gold medalist in the individual recurve W1/W2.
The 31-year-old Nemati had hoped to represent Iran at the Olympics much earlier in life – and in taekwondo rather than archery.
A car accident as a teenager set the former black belt on a new sporting path after leaving her paralyzed.
She picked up archery a few years later simply because, “I wanted to do some sport.”
Nemati started her ambitious journey to a first Olympic medal ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony during archery’s qualifying round at the Sambadrome. She shot 72 arrows and accumulated a score of 609 – good for 49th position. The results from the qualifying round are used determine the seedings for the bracketed tournament next week.
“I want to make my goal and get the best result: to make my family and the people around me happy and let them know I’m OK and I’m strong,” she said.
There’s no questioning her talent in archery. Over the last few years, Nemati has turned in a few top-10 finishes at World Cup events. Just last year she was ninth at a tournament in Poland.
At the 2012 London Paralympics, she captured gold to become the first woman from Iran to do so, according to the Rio Olympics website.
Nemati earned her spot at both the Olympics and Paralympics with a strong performance at the 2015 Asian Championships and Asian Para Championships.
“I had a dream to be in the Olympics as I was doing taekwondo before my accident,” she said. “Now, this dream came true through archery.”
Nemati is hoping others in a similar situation will follow her path and has been named a United Nations ambassador for her role in empowering women through sport.
“For me, it means a lot to make the people who have big problems in their lives happy,” Nemati said.
Arriving in the stadium in a wheelchair, wearing a green head covering, a smiling Nemati was the flagbearer for a team made up overwhelmingly of men.
She is the figurehead of a team from a country where strict interpretations of Islamic norms are enforced and female fans are traditionally barred from attending male-only sporting events. The previous female flagbearer from Iran was at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.