Stone, tiles, and mud.
All a far cry from the traditional taekwondo mat.
But for IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holder and Iranian refugee, Dina Pouryounes, at times they were all she was able to train on.
As she moved from one asylum centre to the next, the 29-year-old knew, that to keep her dream of being a professional taekwondo and Olympic athlete alive, she had to adapt. Even if it meant risking a career-ending injury.
The disparity between her training conditions and that of her competitors is something Pouryounes, now residing in the Netherlands, is conscious of.
It motivates her to work harder to push her potential.
Although she may lack their level of support, few can surely compete with her sporting origin story.
“When I was three years old, I started taekwondo,” Dina shares, smiling.
Both Pouryounes’ parents were Grandmasters of taekwondo. They ran a training centre under their home in Iran. Naturally, they brought their baby daughter along and soon trained her from there.
And it wasn’t too long before the young athlete’s talent began to shine.
At just seven years old, Pouryounes won Gold at the Iranian taekwondo Children’s National Championships. Building on that success, she would go on to represent Iran in the national team for eight years.
At the end of 2014 the then 23-year-old embarked on a odyssey towards the Netherlands.
Her displacement didn’t stop once she arrived at the asylum seekers centre in Ter Apel, the largest permanent reception centre in the country.
In seven years, Pouryounes would come to know six different asylum centres across five Dutch cities. One of the only constants throughout her experience, was her commitment to practising taekwondo.
Desperate to keep her sporting prospects alive, Pouryounes reached out to Dutch-Iranian Master, Manni Zareei.
He and colleague Ramin Padidar began to coach Pouryounes. With their help and expertise, the 29-year-old has gone on to win more than 35 international medals, including gold at the Ramus Sofia Open in March of this year.
As of today, the Pouryounes sits 14th in the Olympic rankings.
On mention of Tokyo Olympic Games 2020, set in 2021, Dina’s face lights up. She says:
“To win a medal would be an incredible feat. It would show the world that refugees aren’t pathetic and are actually very hard-working people.
“We have to work so much harder than athletes for reasons you wouldn’t even think about, which seem so normal to them. They are in their homes with the support of their family and the support of their country. They have doctors, psychologists, nutritionists, and all sorts of extra support.
“The challenges are so great for us that even if we qualify, it shows what an extraordinary feat we can achieve.”