Picture by Stephen Caillet / Panoramic

Hamoon Derafshipour Tokyo-bound after leaving Iran so wife could train him

2018 world bronze medallist Derafshipour left for Canada to ensure his partner, Samira Malekipour, would coach him. Now they're set for the Olympic Games.
By Rory Jiwani

For most athletes, reaching the Olympic Games is a dream.

Karate star Hamoon Derafshipour is no exception, but he had a specific wish which required a dramatic change.

He told TheRecord.com (subscription required), "I wanted my wife to be my coach, which was not possible back home due to the existing rules."

Derafshipour won bronze in kumite at the 2018 World Championships in Madrid while representing his homeland Iran.

A year later, he left for Canada so that his wife Samira Malekipour could train him ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Thanks to that bronze medal and his position in the world rankings, he has qualified for the Olympics and will go there as part of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team.

While his Games expenses are covered, the 28-year-old's training fees are not and he is currently raising funds to attend a six-week training camp in Istanbul to maximise his chances of winning gold in Tokyo.

"Your coach has to support your mentally, and she knows me better than anyone." - Hamoon Derafshipour talking to TheRecord.com

Fulfilling a dream

Derafshipour was born and raised in Kermanshah close to the border with Iraq.

While competing internationally, he met 2010 Asian Games bronze medallist Malekipour who was coaching Iran's women's national team after a knee injury ended her competitive career.

The pair fell in love and opened a karate academy in their hometown at the end of 2017.

He was successful in competition too, sharing third place at the Paris Open in January 2018 before winning the national trials for the World Championships.

At the Worlds in Madrid, Derafshipour reached the 67kg semi-finals where he went down to France's eventual gold medallist Steven Da Costa 2-0.

He then defeated home favourite Raul Cuerva 6-3 to take the bronze medal.

However, his coaching situation remained unsatisfactory.

In October 2019, Derafshipour made the huge decision to leave Iran and their academy's 400 students for Waterloo region in Ontario where he has cousins.

"When we came to Canada everyone told me it was impossible for me to get to the Olympics. There wasn't much time. I was a little sad. But I told myself that anything is possible. I've learned to always embrace challenges in my life," he told TheRecord.com

The pair have been embraced by their local community with Derafshipour finding work as an instructor and coach at Driftwood Martial Arts in nearby Kitchener

He and Malekipour also train at Kazoku Martial Arts in Cambridge with both centres keen to see him succeed at the Games.

In April, Derafshipour received a phone call from the International Olympic Committee confirming that he had indeed qualified for Tokyo.

For Malekipour, it was the news they had been waiting for.

She said, "We've had a long-term plan for the Olympics. I'm so happy. I'm going to be with my husband in the Olympic Games."

Derafshipour is one of the tallest men in his weight class and, allied to his speed, is a formidable opponent.

Malekipour added, "He's very fast and has good technique and is smart in competition. He is a hard worker and always focuses on training."

While the kareteka hopes to represent Canada in the future after gaining citizenship, he is proud to compete under the flag of the IOC at the Games.

But competing is not enough.

In May, Derafshipour told CBC, "Of course, I am happy. But I am most happy because my wife is coaching me at the Olympics."

"This dream is for both of us. We don't have time to be happy. We want to get results. After that we want to be able to say, 'Oh, now we are happy.'" - Hamoon Derafshipour speaking to CBC