Spotlight on Belarus-born Iranian Athlete Leila Rajabi

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Iran’s Leyla Rajabi competes in the women’s shot put qualification during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium August 6, 2012. REUTERS/Phil Noble (BRITAIN)

You may not hear the name “Leila Rajabi” at this year’s Olympics, but keep your ears open. Though the Iranian shotputter ranked 10th in the qualification round, missing her chances at the finals, she may have been a bit thrown off: In first place in Rajabi’s group was Nadzeya Ostapchuk, a former countrywoman of Rajabi, who until 2009 represented Belarus under her birth name Tatsiana Ilyushchanka.

When Rajabi married Iranian athlete Peiman Rajabi, she converted to Islam and decided to compete for her adopted country of Iran, though she continues to train in Belarus for lack of a local coach. “Iran needs to get good and professional coaches for women in order to improve in athletics,” the athlete recently complained. “Unfortunately, [in Iran] many athletes don’t even have a coach. Under such conditions, women’s progress in athletics will be very slow”.

Despite that, Rajabi is currently the national champion in Iran and has won gold in the 2009 Asian Indoor Games and the 2010 Asian Indoor Championships. Rajabi was recently profiled for BBC Persian. The 29-year-old athlete may have another chance at gold in the next Olympics; for her part, it doesn’t seem like she’s giving up anytime soon.