Hamoon Derafshipour is seen during a karate competition in an undated handout photo. Derafshipour, who is based in Kitchener, Ont., is originally from Iran and was selected to the IOC's 29-member Olympic Refugee Team earlier this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canadian Olympic Committee, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Canadian-based karate athlete Derafshipour named to Refugee Team for Tokyo Games

Canadian-based karate athlete Derafshipour named to Refugee Team for Tokyo Games

Canadian-based karate athlete Derafshipour named to Refugee Team for Tokyo Games

Hamoon Derafshipour’s Olympic dreams began in Iran, then blossomed in Canada.

Now, the karate star will compete as a member of the Olympic Refugee Team at the Tokyo Games.

And if he climbs the medal podium, Derafshipour says it will be bittersweet to see the Olympic flag go up for him.

“Of course, I’m so sad about it,” Derafshipour said of not competing for Iran. “But I have a goal, and right now Canada is my country.”

The 28-year-old and his wife Samira Malekipour, who’s also his coach, left Iran in 2019 for Kitchener, Ont., as he has cousins in nearby Waterloo. In an interview, Derafshipour declined to talk about his reasons for leaving Iran over concern for family members who still live in the country.

Derafshipour was born in Kermanshah, near the Iran/Iraq border. Malekipour, who was the 2010 Asian Games bronze medallist, was coaching Iran’s women’s team when the two met. They married, and opened a karate academy in Iran in 2017.

The two came to Canada just before COVID-19 hit, making for a tough 15 months in Kitchener. While Derafshipour worked at Driftwood Martial Arts in Kitchener, the pandemic protocols meant the gym has been closed during Ontario’s lockdowns. He’s since worked for automotive company, and then raised money through a GoFundMe page for a six-week training camp in Istanbul, his current base.