ASIA OLYMPIC PROJECT GOES TO TOKYO: SORAYA AGHAEIHAJIAGHA
Last week, Badminton Asia wrote a piece on Asia Olympic Project (AOP) player Thet Htar Thuzar from Myanmar. In the article, we highlighted her badminton journey and her goals and expectations for this year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The article was written as a companion piece to Badminton Asia Development’s Facebook live event held on the 11th of July, that celebrated the amazing achievement of 4 of our AOP players, as they have qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
This year, 4 talented players from 4 different countries have qualified. And they are: Thuy Linh Nguyen from Vietnam, Thet Htar Thuzar from Myanmar, Mahoor Shahzad from Pakistan, and Soraya Aghaeihajiagha from Iran. Each player will have their own article that puts focus on their story and their experiences leading up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
This time, we are highlighting Soraya Aghaeihajiagha’s answers to our Facebook Live discussion where she discusses in depth the tough road that she had to face in order for her to compete at the Olympics and what it means to her. And despite the difficulties, she also mentions just how excited she is for the upcoming games.
Below is the edited transcript of the discussion with Soraya Aghaeihajiagha held on the 11th of July:
BA: Congratulations on qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games! How are you feeling? How did you find out that you were going to compete in the Tokyo Olympics? Were you at home? Can you tell us how you react--how did your family react when hearing the good news?
Soraya: I’ve been trying to qualify for the Olympics for more than 7-8 years. And it’s been a very tough year for me because I had a difficult injury and when I found out I qualified for the Olympics, it was one of the best moments in my life because I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long and I’m so excited and happy to be a part of the AOP team. I’m so happy that all our effort and all the things we did together happened, and we are in the Olympics.
BA: When did you start playing badminton?
Soraya: At 7 years old.
BA: As an athlete, you must have always had “the Olympic dream” -- when did it start becoming something that looks like “Oh, this is actually a dream I can achieve..”?
Soraya: When I was 14 or 15 we had an Iranian boy that tried to qualify for the Olympics, and from then I thought, why not girls from Iran trying for the Olympics too? So then I became the first Iranian girl to qualify for the Olympics (in badminton) and it was a really big achievement for me.
BA: What are your goals and expectations in this year’s games?
Soraya: As a player who plays many tournaments, I’ve never been like, “Oh, it’s enough and I just want to play in the Olympics.” Of course, when I go to court I want to do my best. My goal is to be the best version of Soraya in the Olympics. I will try my best to play my best and to perform well.
BA: How has the Asia Olympic Project (AOP) helped you in this journey?
Soraya: I'm one of the oldest players in the AOP so I'm really proud of being on this team and would like to say thank you because I’m here now with AOP’s help. We have so many tournaments and training camps, and they make it all together. I hope I will make them proud.
BA: What are the challenges that you’ve faced to get you where you are now?
Soraya: I've been selected for AOP since 2013, so it's a very long journey for me to play in the Olympics because I’ve been playing so many tournaments from 2013 to help qualify for the last Olympics but unfortunately before the Olympics, I had an injury on my knee and needed surgery. After that, it was really difficult to come back again but I never stopped trying. I remembered that it was a really difficult time for me to play again on the court and come back to my level of performance.
But thank God I did that and was in the AOP team and when I was selected in the AOP it motivated me to try for the next Olympics. This is because at every training camp we all come together and plan for the Olympics and tournaments. I try, try, try, and over the last 4 years, I’ve played so many tournaments, especially in 2019 I played more than 18 tournaments. Of course, I lost and had difficult times, I even traveled alone sometimes. It was difficult, I cannot say that it was easy but it was a nice time for me because I really enjoyed the difficult things. The main thing here is that I never stopped trying, even when I had my injury, when I lost, when there was difficulty to travel.
I’m really proud that 4 girls from AOP are going to the Olympics. I want to say to all the players who are listening, never stop trying. If you want something, just try for it until the end.
BA: What’s your last-minute preparations going to be like?
Soraya: Same like Thet Thet. Of course, I mainly focus on training before the Olympics. I got my clothes today and I’m excited to pack for the Olympics.
BA: What do you think the Olympics is going to be like for you?
Soraya: It’s going to be an exciting moment for me in the Olympics because it’s every athlete’s dream. It’s very big in my mind and when I go there I’m sure I’m going to be like “I’m really here!”. I’m really excited.
BA: How has your Federation been?
Soraya: They are really happy as well, and I would like to say thank you to them and they have supported me a lot these past few years. They’re very happy because I’m the first female player to qualify for the Olympics in badminton, so my coach is very excited and I would like to thank
her as well. I’m really happy to make Iran, Iran Badminton Federation, all the badminton family, and my friends proud. It’s a good achievement for me.
BA: Do you have any last words that you would like to share?
Soraya: I would like to say thank you first of all to Badminton Asia, Badminton Asia Development team, all of the AOP team, my federation, my coach, and my family and fans. Without their help, I wouldn’t be here and I will try to do my best.
During this discussion, Badminton Asia understood just how many challenges she has faced throughout her professional career. But we also learned that although it was hard, she never gave up her dreams. Now, she gets to enjoy it. Soraya mentions at the end that it’s so important to never stop trying. She says, “If you want something, just try for it until the end”. Badminton Asia could not be any more proud of her and is inspired by her Olympic journey. Tomorrow, Badminton Asia’s discussion with Mahoor Shahzad from Pakistan will be posted. Stay tuned!