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Iran's female Olympic medalist seeks new life in Germany

Iran's only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

Iranian Taekwondo athlete Kimia Alizadeh speaks to the media at a press conference in Luenen, Germany, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Iran's only female Olympic medalist fled from the Islamic Republic and said she wants to compete for Germany. (AP PhotoMartin Meissner)

"I am sure that I will be judged by many but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn't expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran's long history of victories in men's wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

Iranian Taekwondo athlete Kimia Alizadeh speaks to the media at a press conference in Luenen, Germany, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Iran's only female Olympic medalist fled from the Islamic Republic and said she wants to compete for Germany. (AP PhotoMartin Meissner)

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn't given up hope of being able to compete at this year's Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee's refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

Iranian Taekwondo athlete Kimia Alizadeh speaks to the media at a press conference in Luenen, Germany, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Iran's only female Olympic medalist fled from the Islamic Republic and said she wants to compete for Germany. (AP PhotoMartin Meissner)

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2016 file photo, Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin of Iran celebrates after winning the bronze medal in a women's Taekwondo 57-kg competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Zenoorin, Iran's only female Olympic medalist, said she defected from the Islamic Republic in a blistering online letter that describes herself as “one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran.” (AP PhotoAndrew Medichini, File)

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life," and she's not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future," she said. "I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

Associated Press producer Mohammad Nasiri in Tehran contributed to this report.

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