Iran’s female skier blazes a trail to Pyeongchang

Al Jazeera – When Samaneh Bayrami Baher marches in Pyeongchang on Friday for the opening of the 2018 Winter Games, she will be one of only four athletes representing Iran’s national colours.

Getting a spot to compete in the 23rd Olympic Games in South Korea was no easy feat for the 26-year-old athlete, who is the only female member of the country’s national cross-country skiing team.

Aside from limited financial resources, Iran also doesn’t have enough facilities for ski training. While the world’s top skiers train year-round, Iranian athletes are limited to about three months when it snows on the mountains.

This year has seen a lack of snow in Iran, meaning Samaneh travelled to Armenia and Turkey to train.

As a child, Samaneh fell in love with swimming, competing and winning three international events. She also trained for competitive cycling.

But skiing became her passion, and she began dreaming of competing in the Olympics.

While skiing she is required to wear a hijab, a compulsory garment for women in the Islamic Republic, as well as a skirt in compliance with the country’s customs.

Cross-country skiing is one of the toughest events in the Winter Olympics.

While training at Shemshak Ski Resort north of Tehran on Sunday, Samaneh described to reporters how “overwhelming” it is to scale mountains for long distances in sub-zero temperatures.

Samaneh said she is determined to give her best and “make her country proud”.

The 26-year-old athlete is the only female member of Iran's national cross-country skiing team. Another Iranian female athlete is an alpine skier. [Mohammad Ali Najib/Al Jazeera]

The 26-year-old athlete is the only female member of Iran’s national cross-country skiing team. Another Iranian female athlete is an alpine skier. MOHAMMAD ALI NAJIB/AL JAZEERA

While competing, Samaneh has to wear a hijab and skirt in compliance with the requirements of the Islamic Republic of Iran. [Mohammad Ali Najib/Al Jazeera]

While competing, Samaneh has to wear a hijab and skirt in compliance with the requirements of the Islamic Republic of Iran. MOHAMMAD ALI NAJIB/AL JAZEERA

Cross-country skiing combines strength and  endurance in harsh conditions. [Mohammad Ali Najib/Al Jazeera]

Cross-country skiing combines strength and endurance in harsh conditions. MOHAMMAD ALI NAJIB/AL JAZEERA

At Pyeongchang, Samaneh will be competing in the 10km Free and Sprint Classic events. [Mohammad Ali Najib/Al Jazeera]

At Pyeongchang, Samaneh will be competing in the 10km Free and Sprint Classic events. MOHAMMAD ALI NAJIB/AL JAZEERA

Samaneh started competitive cross-country skiing in 2008 when she took part in a World Cup race in Tehran. [Mohammad Ali Najib/Al Jazeera]

Samaneh started competitive cross-country skiing in 2008 when she took part in a World Cup race in Tehran. MOHAMMAD ALI NAJIB/AL JAZEERA

Because of limited facilities in Iran, Samaneh had to travel to Armenia and Turkey to train. [Mohammad Ali Najib/Al Jazeera]

Because of limited facilities in Iran, Samaneh had to travel to Armenia and Turkey to train. MOHAMMAD ALI NAJIB/AL JAZEERA

There are six male and six female events in the cross-country skiing category at the 23rd Winter Games in South Korea. [Mohammad Ali Najib/Al Jazeera]

There are six male and six female events in the cross-country skiing category at the 23rd Winter Games in South Korea. MOHAMMAD ALI NAJIB/AL JAZEERA

The Iranian team was embroiled in controversy at Pyeongchang, when South Korea's Samsung excluded it from receiving gifts over concerns of sanction violations. [Mohammad Ali Najib/Al Jazeera]

The Iranian team was embroiled in controversy at Pyeongchang, when South Korea’s Samsung excluded it from receiving gifts over concerns of sanction violations. MOHAMMAD ALI NAJIB/AL JAZEERA

Samaneh said she hopes her government will better fund Iran's winter Olympians, like it does for summer athletes. [Mohammad Ali Najib/Al Jazeera]

Samaneh said she hopes her government will better fund Iran’s winter Olympians, like it does for summer athletes. MOHAMMAD ALI NAJIB/AL JAZEERA