Skier Marjan Kalhor carries hopes for Iran, Iranian women

WHISTLER — On the window of an apartment overlooking this ski resort town, an unusual sight at the Winter Olympics: The flag of Iran.

Inside sits the demure 21-year-old woman who carried it in the opening ceremony, wearing both the traditional headscarf, and a hesitant smile, for a stranger. Marjan Kalhor represents history, and she hopes, change.

Iran has never before sent a woman to the Winter Games.

Back home, 45 miles from Tehran, is the father, whose four children all ski, and the mother, whose heart issues made it too hard to be here. Back home is a nation of women Marjan hopes will be watching.

"I am very glad to be here, not just for myself, but it can be a very good incentive for the women in Iran," she says through a translator. "I want them to know if they want to, they can. I want them to know it is possible."

It can be a tricky subject, opportunities for women back home. Marjan is not Lindsey Vonn, accustomed to the perils of the media. So she is interviewed in a crowded room, with translator and a bevy of adults, including brother Rostam, who is also her coach.

This is not the slalom course. She will face no question alone.

"I was so excited and proud that I was the lady who would carry the flag," she says. "Everybody could see that a Muslim woman can carry the flag, because everybody is looking at the flag bearers. So it was very important to me that it was me."

Growing up in ski country, she took up the sport at age 4 and was winning competitions at 11. She began thinking of the Olympics.

Others were not so enthusiastic. There are many in her culture who do not see a woman's role as skiing down a mountain.

"I heard from some that 'it's not proper for you do to that,' " she says. "I never listened to them."

There was a report that only recently could she be on the slopes with men and was forbidden to ride chair lifts with them.

Some back-and-forth translation never quite cleared up that matter, though the interpreter finally said, "If the condition is proper, yes she can."

She already has fallen once training here, suffering minor injuries. But she is scheduled for the giant slalom Wednesday and slalom Friday, when she will share the course with the greatest names of her sport. They will go faster, but none of them will feel higher or stronger.

"I can't think about a gold medal or silver or bronze," she says. "But I have some competitors that were close to each other. I hope I can perform better than my rank."

Rostam hopes so, too. They have skied together since they can remember, brother and sister.

"I know what she's capable of," he says. "I believe in her.

"Those families who are not involved in skiing, they can see their daughter can basically be as equal as the son in the family."

Their parents won't be at the Whistler Creekside, cheering for the television cameras. It would have taken a lot of money to get here. And there is something else.

"Our mom has a heart condition, and it's quite stressful to watch your daughter compete," Rostam says. "They usually say goodbye, and good luck and pray at home. As soon as the competition is over, they are called and we tell them the result."

"Like always," Marjan says, "I will tell them to 'Please pray and cross your fingers for me to be the winner.' "

Not that her brother can say much about nerves.

"When she practices, I am watching her like a hawk," he says. "But when she's competing, I turn my back because I don't want to see it. I hear the results on the walkie-talkie."

But this week, he'll be watching.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance," he says.

His sister hopes not, for the women back home.

The interview ends.

"Thank you," Marjan says, in English, perhaps slightly more comfortable as a groundbreaking daughter of Iran.

Source: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/columnist/lopresti/2010-02-21-lopresti-on-iranian-skier_N.htm