Meet Dina Pouryounes: The IOC Refugee Athlete taking taekwondo by storm
Looking at Dina Pouryounes’ taekwondo record, it’s difficult to believe that she was homeless just six years ago.
The Iranian was forced to flee her homeland in 2015, and eventually settled in The Netherlands.
It was there that the sport of taekwondo became her salvation. The sport initially served as a place where she could channel her frustrations in a positive way, while it also helped her to build a community and a life in her new homeland.
But it quickly became apparent that Pouryounes had a special talent.
In September 2015 she won her first international medal at the Polish Open while she was still living in an asylum centre. A successful 2016 saw her take home several tournament medals and climb the world and Olympic rankings. In 2017, she won her first Turkish Open - one of the toughest ranking tournaments in the world. But this was only a taste of what was to come.
World Taekwondo started supporting Pouryounes in late 2017, and she became the first refugee athlete to compete in a World Taekwondo Championships. Because of her high ranking, she was also able to participate at the Grand Prix series where only the top 32 fighters of each Olympic category are invited.
Her form in 2018 was simply scintillating. She defended her Turkish Open crown, before taking out the prestigious Dutch Open title and sealing silver in the European Senior Championships in Kazan.
These efforts helped propel her onto the global stage, and she was rewarded with an International Olympic Committee Refugee Athlete Scholarship. This gave Pouryounes access to extra funds and training support, as well as a potential opportunity to represent the Olympic Refugee Team at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Spurred on by these achievements, the Iranian-born taekwondo player won another Dutch Open in 2019, and three silver medals at world ranking tournaments in 2020.
To date, she has amassed an impressive 34 world ranking medals, and was the World No. 3 ranked -49kg athlete in April 2020.
While Pouryounes’ taekwondo accolades are undoubtedly impressive, the sport has played an equally-important, non-tangible part in her life.
Like any one of the millions of displaced people around the world, being forced to leave family and friends is a deeply traumatic experience.
However, in becoming part of the taekwondo community in The Hague, Netherlands, she was able to find some happiness again, and she believes that exercise has been essential for her mental health.
Despite the disruption the global pandemic caused, Pouryounes showed that she had lost none of her touch at the Ramus Sofia Open in March 2021.
After a hiatus in competition, she won a thrilling -49kg final 9-7.
“I was concerned about my level before the competition,” she said after. “But everything turned out well for me and all the hard training finally paid off. I will keep training hard to win the upcoming competitions.”