RIO DE JANEIRO —
Shahin Nasirinia represented Iran as a weightlifter at two Olympics, but at the Rio Summer Games he is helping coach the United States' weightlifting team.
“I am happy with it. I love this sport. I love this job and I put my heart, everything into it,” Nasirinia told VOA.
“Weightlifting is a sport where if you do even 1 kilogram of progress in one month, or two months, whatever, it makes you happy,” he added. “You see the progress and you go to training and you put everything into every session to make that progress, and that's what every weightlifter loves.”
Shahin Nasirinia, a coach for the U.S. weightlifting team, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (P. Brewer/VOA)
Nasirinia, 40, pulled off one of the greatest upsets in weightlifting history at the 1999 World Championships in Athens when he upset heavy favorite Pyrros Dimas of Greece to win the gold medal in the 85 kilogram class. He was the first Iranian in the 80-year history of the light heavyweight category at the World Championships to win the title.
He then competed for Iran at both the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2004 Athens Summer Games. Nasirinia injured his elbow in Sydney, then moved up to the 94 kilo middle heavyweight class for Athens and just missed the podium, placing fourth.
Moved to coaching
After being a lifter for 15 years, he decided he wanted to do something else, so he took over coaching Iran's junior team from 2005 to 2007. At the time, he said he would be interested in coaching in the United States, if the right offer came along.
He got his green card that would allow him to work, and he and his wife, Farahnaz, made a visit to the U.S. in 2007. After two weeks, they located some friends and relatives in the American West who suggested they stay if they liked it. And they did. They had brief stays in California and Las Vegas before settling in Arizona.
But then Nasirinia said he stayed away from the sport for about three and a half years.
“I wanted to relax. I spent time reading and researching about sports as well as writing about my career in weightlifting," he said.
Then he finally got an offer to coach – but from Mexico. So he went there for six months to coach Mexican lifters before the 2012 London Olympics.
Later that year, he started coaching in the United States and eventually ended up as the coach of one of the top U.S. lifters, Alex Lee.
It was at last year's World Weightlifting Championships in Houston that USA Weightlifting representatives saw Nasirinia and remembered him from 1999. And it was in Houston that female weightlifter Morghan King asked Nasirinia to help coach her.
That's how he ended up in Rio with USA Weightlifting.
King, a relative newcomer to the sport, qualified for the Olympics. Not only that, she broke a 16-year-old American record at these Summer Games during her sixth-place finish in the 48-kg class. She lifted a total 183 kilograms for the snatch, and clean and jerk.
While in Rio, Nasirinia has assisted all the U.S. weightlifters, just like the other personal coaches who made the trip to Brazil with USA Weightlifting.
“Of course, we are a team. We help each other. You know. Everyone is trying to help each other. If someone else needs me, I go for it. That is no problem," he said.
Nasirinia said he goes back to Iran once a year for a month or two at a time. He declined to share his thoughts on his country's nuclear agreement with the U.S. and five other world powers.
“Honestly, I don't like to talk about politics and these things. I don't have any opinions on that. I am a sportsman. Ask me about sports, about weightlifting," he said.
Well then, how would you describe yourself as a coach?
“I am a hard coach. Everyone knows that, and it's hard to train with me. But I think I am going to stay in this business as long as I can,' Nasirinia said. "This is the only thing I enjoy."