The women's team hope to make the finals 
Iran is competing in one of the toughest of all endurance sports - and women are very much part of the plan.

  

The Iranian women's rowing team is training hard before they compete at the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.

 

Rowing for women is new in Iran, with the current team in training for just six months. But they are keen to make an impression on the sport.

 

"We are young, we have started the sport fresh, and we train four times a day. So we are constantly gaining experience and we have our aim set on the Olympics," said Mina Amini, 18, the women's team's captain.

 

"It was just six months ago we started rowing in Iran. I was excited as I like boats and was attracted as this is the first time this is happening in Iran," said Amini, from the northeastern city of Boujnourd.

 

Challenge

 

The four women in the team were chosen from 300 hopefuls after a series of physical and technical tests. December's Asian Games is their first big challenge.

 

Kayaking is another sport in which
Iranian women are competing
"We will be realistic. We will try and be in the finals. We don't just want to talk, we want to achieve," said their half-Russian coach, Javid Sarabi.

 

More and more Iranian women are seeking to compete at a high level in physical sports. It is a sign of increasing readiness in the Islamic republic to accept female sportswomen in different disciplines.

 

After the Islamic revolution in 1979, it was impossible for women to compete in international sports competitions, where they would inevitably encounter men as judges and spectators.

 

However, from the early 1990s women began to compete again. There was a relaxation of dress codes and women's further participation in sport was championed by Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, then president.

 

More involvement

 

Initially, women began to enter more stationary sports where conservative dress codes could be maintained without problems, such as shooting or archery.

 

"The Iranians have potential as athletes. Above all the food is good. It's organic and there is lots of fruit. People really think about their health"

Javid Sarabi, coach, Iranian women's rowing team

But for Doha, Iran will be sending female athletes to a broad range of sports including rowing, kayaking, athletics, equestrian and taekwondo.

 

The rowing and kayak teams are determined to make an impression at the games.

 

"I should say that we are sending a very young and well physically prepared women's team. Certainly we are going there to get results. We see a bright future for our women's teams," said Ahmad Donyamalli, the head of Iran's canoeing and rowing federation.

 

The crew still obeys Iran's Islamic dress code and rows in tracksuit trousers, black headscarves and long-sleeved T shirts under a sleeveless apron that covers the waist.

 

Investment

 

Donyamalli said around $600,000 is being invested in equipment, mostly imported from China, and three foreign coaches have been hired. A 2,000-metre rowing lake within Tehran's city limits is available for training.

 

"This sport is just getting going in Iran. But there are great prospects. In winter, the Thames [in London] can freeze over and you have to stop. Here in Iran, you can row all year round," said Sarabi, the Iranian women's rowing team coach.

 

"The Iranians have potential as athletes. Above all the food is good. It's organic and there is lots of fruit. People really think about their health," he said.

 

"And they do not drink any alcohol, which is great," he added.

 

Iran has been training women in canoeing disciplines for a little longer than rowing and is sending Sonya Nourizad, and Elaheh Kharazmi to race in the two-person flat-water kayak in Doha.

 

"When I came I thought that the prospects are there. There were good conditions, good water and good athletes. Just the achievement was not good. But now the distance has become narrower," said Lothar Schaefer, their German coach.

Source: Agencies