Mehrzad helps Iran spike into Paralympic history with seventh gold medal victory

Morteza Mehrzadeselakjani recorded 25 spikes, two blocks and ace to power Iran to win its seventh gold medal in the Paralympic Games, following the 3-1 (25-21, 25-14, 19-25, 25-17) win over RPC in the Tokyo 2020 men’s sitting volleyball final at Makuhari Messe Hall on Saturday.

Iran extended their Paralympic gold medal record and medal haul, following top podium triumphs at Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016, and two silver medals at Athens 2004 and London 2012.

“It has been about one month that we have been away from our families and it was very difficult for us. Before coming to this match, I was able to talk to my wife, my son and my daughter and told them that they should not worry too much. I told them to just trust that we will get the gold medal today because no other team deserves it more,” Iran setter and captain Davoud Alipourian said.

Photo: Kyodo News

RPC defeated Rio 2016 podium placers Egypt and Bosnia and Herzegovina at Tokyo 2020 to make it to their first Paralympic final after winning bronze at Beijing 2008. Their final hurdle was to beat defending champions Iran, but the European powerhouse settled for silver, which was still their best finish in their history.

Meisam Ali Pour and Mahdi Babadi reinforced the offence of Iran with 17- and 10-point contributions, while Viktor Milenin and Aleksandr Savichev were the go-to hitters for RPC.

Milenin fired 22 attacks and five aces and deflected three Iranian spikes to power the RPC game. However, Iran led on all fronts and had less turnovers.

Ali Pour led the charge for Iran to gain momentum and the lead in the opening set from his powerful serves. Then Morteza Mehrzadselakjani took care of the offence at the net with his unstoppable swings.

Despite those tough obstacles that RPC had to go through, they still fought hard and kept the score within striking range. The same scoring pattern continued in the next plays and the Asian powerhouse squad reached the end of the set with a block by Alipourian on Milenin and an attack winner by Ali Pour 25-21.

Iran once again led to start the second set, but Evgenii Volosnikov’s powerful serve tied the game at 5-all, but Iran responded quicky and gained three straight points to lead at the first technical timeout.

The game in the second set seemed one-sided and despite the efforts of RPC, Iran were too strong. The Iranian advantage ballooned and reached 20-12, then a couple of blocks by the reigning champions seized the set 25-14 in their favour.

Iran’s complacency in the third frame, caused them the set as RPC kept their focus and challenged them in every play. RPC grabbed the lead 14-11, but Iran shifted the momentum back to their side to lead by one point at the second technical timeout. RPC found their rhythm and regained the lead 23-18, until a block by Savichev saved them the set 25-19.

Iran started strong right away in the fourth set, scoring on every opportunity they can to build a 16-5 lead. Iran did not hesitate on offence as they racked up more points and left their rivals helpless on defence, only to increase the lead to 19-8.

A last jolt from RPC saw them score a few points off Milenin’s serves to reduce the lead 21-14, and scored another three to make it 23-17, but the late surge was too late as Babadi and Alipourian scored off an attack and a block to seal the gold medal victory at 25-17.

“We have to work more on defence and set plays for the next time we meet Iran,” RPC middle blocker Denis Shestakov said.

“After the Paralympics, we are going to the European Championship in October and then we will also compete in China next year for the World Championship. So we are looking forward