Page last updated at 02:02 GMT, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Iran's role model and inspiration - on skis

By Marcus George
BBC News

Iranian skier Marjan Kalhor at Winter Olympics 14 February 2010
Marjan hopes that taking part in games will encourage other Iranian women

The first Iranian woman to take part in the Winter Olympics says she hopes she will be able to inspire Muslim women all over the world to get involved in sport.

Marjan Kalhor has overcome conservative opposition to her participation in the games by wearing a headscarf under her skiing helmet.

High in the Alborz mountains north of the sprawling city of Tehran lies Dizin, the centre of the country's skiing industry.

Although skiing is popular in Iran, a lack of investment in the resort has left it with outdated ski lifts and little modern skiing infrastructure.

But that hasn't stopped the rise to fame of Ms Kalhor - who has already made history.

This week the 21-year-old is thousands of miles away in Vancouver preparing for her debut in the Winter Olympics.

One of the reasons I'm so happy about being here is to be a role model
Marjan Kalhor

When she lines up on Wednesday to cross the start line of the giant slalom, she will be the first Iranian woman to ever participate in the games.

While nobody is expecting her to win a medal, she says she has already achieved her greatest ambition by participating, and she hopes it will encourage other Iranian women.

"The number of women who are interested in skiing is increasing fast. And I'm so happy about that," she says.

"The next generation and my own, are thinking about competing, not just having fun.

"And one of the reasons I'm so happy about being here is to be a role model for all of them."

The Iranian delegation at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics  10 February 2010
Iranians are unlikely to be able to watch Marjan and team mates in action

This is easier said than done in a country where the participation of women in sport is for the most part seen as incompatible with Islam.

She acknowledges the issue but says it has not prevented her from pursuing her dream.

"People are different. Some people don't know how precious it is to be a winner or a competitor," she says.

"I try not to listen to them."

Back in Dizin however, Iranians are unlikely to be able to watch Marjan and her three Iranian team mates in action.

As with the summer Olympics, coverage on Iranian television has been sporadic at best.

But if some have questioned her participation, many more will be cheering her on and hoping against all the odds for an Olympic medal returning to Iran.

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