Iranian refugee Kimia Alizadeh is one victory away from winning the Refugee Olympic Team’s first ever medal after three impressive wins in the Tokyo Games’ taekwondo tournament on Sunday.
Alizadeh shocked two-time Olympic gold medalist Jade Jones in the round-of-16, beating the British champion 16-12.
She went on to defeat Zhou Lijun of China 9-8 in the quarterfinals, mounting a stirring final-minute rally for the second straight bout. Earlier, she beat Iranian opponent Nahid Kiyani Chandeh 18-9 in her opening bout in Tokyo.
Alizadeh’s wins raise hopes that the Refugee Olympic Team could take home its first medal in history during the Tokyo games.
Twenty-three-year-old Alizadeh previously made history during the 2016 Rio Olympics, becoming the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal when she brought home a bronze.
She has since fled Iran for Germany and is competing for the refugee team, which is competing at its second Olympics.
On Sunday, she beat Iranian opponent Nahid Kiyani Chandeh 18-9 in her opening bout in Tokyo and followed that two hours later with a massive upset of Jones, who was attempting to become the first three-time taekwondo gold medalist and the first British woman in any sport to win gold at three consecutive Olympics.
Alizadeh screamed and celebrated with her coach while the small crowd of Olympians and support personnel in the Makuhari Messe convention centre erupted with astonished roars at the biggest upset of the taekwondo tournament.
Alizadeh cited institutional sexism and the mandatory wearing of the hijab in her criticisms of the Iranian system, which she decried for using her for propaganda purposes in a passionate letter announcing her defection.
She was the latest in a series of high-profile defections from the Iranian sport system by athletes dissatisfied with the government’s treatment and policies.
In April, the International Judo Federation (IJF) suspended Iran for four years because the nation refused to allow its fighters to face Israelis.
The IJF said Iran’s policies were revealed when former Iranian judo competitor Saeid Mollaei claimed he was ordered to lose in the semi-finals of the 2019 world championships in Tokyo to avoid potentially facing Israeli world champion Sagi Muki in the final.
Mollaei defected to Germany in 2019 and will be representing Mongolia at the Tokyo Olympics when he begins competition on Tuesday.
Alireza Faghani, a prominent international football referee, left Iran for Australia in 2019.