Five things to know about Greco-Roman wrestling Olympic champion Mohammadreza Geraei

The Iranian won a 67kg gold at Tokyo 2020, but did you know he had to overcome a significant injury in the run up to the Games?

By Andrew Binner
Picture by (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Iran has produced many of Olympic wrestling icons, and Mohammadreza Geraei is their latest prodigy, that look set to dominate the world for some time.

The Greco-Roman grappler returned to his homeland as a hero after winning the 67kg Greco-Roman Olympic gold medal at Tokyo 2020.

As one of only three Iranian gold medallists in Japan - and the only wrestler in nation where the ancient martial art is king - Geraei’s victory was arguably the most popular.

But the 25-year-old's success story goes far beyond a medal.

After a meteoric rise in 2019 when Geraei became the Asian and World U23 champion, he was struck down by an injury in the run up to the Games.

With the help of his brother, some creative thinking and the support of his nation, he was able to deliver the reward

He is now an inspiration and a role model back home, but how well do you know the multi-weight wrestling champion off the mat?

1 - Wrestling is in the Geraei family's blood

Geraei grew up in the central Iranian city of Shiraz as one of three siblings, two of whom would become accomplished Greco-Roman wrestlers.

His brother Mohammadali Geraei, older by two years, is one of his nation's most consistent grapplers in recent times, having won world bronze medals in 2017 (71kg) and 2019 (77kg) as well as the 2018 Asian Games title (77kg).

Mohammadali is nicknamed ‘The Falcon’ because of his wrestling motto that sits in his social media bio: "To Have Face is to Have Wings"

The brothers both competed at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where Mohammadreza took home gold and Mohammadali just missed out on the medals after losing his bronze-medal bout.

While many siblings fight, there is nothing but respect between these two. Mohammadreza almost prophetically told UWW this before Tokyo 2020:

"It's a pleasure and honor to go to the Olympics with my brother, and he can definitely help me develop and reach the goal of winning an Olympic medal. Having him there is great as a partner, support system and teacher."

Mohammadali Geraei grapples with Japan's Shohei Yabiku during the Greco-Roman 77kg bronze medal match at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

2 - Overcoming an ill-timed injury to win Olympic gold

Winning an Olympic gold medal in a combat sport is difficult enough with full fitness and perfect preparation.

Gereai managed it with neither of these things.

He was was on a high in 2019, having been crowned Asian champion before winning the World U23 Championships - both at 72kg. Everything was going according to plan.

But his progress came crashing to a halt when he suffered a lower back injury just weeks before the 2019 World Championships in Nur-Sultan. The injury didn’t heal in time, and he was forced to sit the key Olympic preparation event out.

"That is the worst moment of my career. I wanted to wrestle at the World Championships," he recalled.

But that wasn’t the only hurdle he had to overcome. Read below to find out more...

Mohammadreza Geraei sufered an injury in 2019, while at the peak of his career to date.
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

3 - Finding resourceful solutions during Covid

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the Olympic preparations of athletes around the world, but few countries were hit as hard as Iran.

Despite having to face another hardship, Geraei kept himself motivated with the goal of going to the Olympics and joining the likes of legendary freestyle wrestler Hassan Yazdani as a gold medallist from Iran.

With no gym to go to, the Geraei brothers set up a make-shift training facility at their home in Shiraz, and would wrestle each other in six-minute bouts.

"We have never competed officially but we practice all the time," the smaller Mohammedreza revealed. "My brother always beats me. He is better than me but I keep on going after him."

4 - Continuing Iran's fine wrestling legacy

Iran has won 24 gold medals in the modern Olympic Games.

Almost half of them (11) have been won in wrestling, and as such Geraei joins an exclusive group of particularly-revered athletes in the Asian nation.

With two bronze medals and one silver, it had been a frustrating tournament at Tokyo 2020 for Iran until Geraei stepped up to deliver a magnificent gold.

With the likes of reigning world champion Yazdani still only 26 and the Geraei brothers improving with every tournament, there are high hopes for Paris 2024 to be their most successful Games yet.

5 - Social media influencer and philosopher

Geraei’s can-do attitude, combined with his success on the international stage have made him an enormously popular figure in Iran - a country that lives and breathes wrestling.

Today, he boasts a whopping 176k Instagram followers, where he encourages his followers with inspiring messages.

A perfect example of this lies within one of his recent posts where he says:

"The most beautiful diamond comes out of the heart of the hottest furnace, maybe you need these difficulties."