For the last year, Iran has drawn its fair share of criticism for its nuclear ambitions. But if Beejan Kangarloo has his way, the country could some day attract attention for a different kind of Atomics: skis.
Iran isn’t known for its snow or steep slopes, but according to Kangarloo, there’s some great skiing in the mountains near Tehran. He’s hoping to draw attention to a little-known side of the country by qualifying to represent it in the 2010 Olympics.
Born and raised in Western Canada, the 24-year-old Kangarloo grew up racing for the Banff Ski Runners, and was even good enough to qualify for the Canadian Junior World Championships Team. Last year, he acquired Iranian citizenship with the help of his father, Saeed, and now the only thing standing between Kangarloo and the Games is one really good race: he’ll qualify if he can achieve the international qualifying standard of 120 FIS points.
While the country has been in the news in the last year for a disputed presidential election and a secret nuclear program, Kangarloo isn’t interested in controversy. He’s simply a young man who loves to ski.
“I don’t want to be associated with being political,” he said. “I’m just trying to ski and trying to bring awareness to Iran. People don’t realize that it’s a ski nation—they really only see the negative side.”
Kangarloo—who goes by Justin—has never been to Iran, and he doesn’t speak Persian. (He’s embarrassed about it, and he’s taking lessons.) But he says his father’s side of the family exposed him to the country’s culture as he was growing up in Calgary.
Saeed emigrated to Canada at 19 to study engineering at McGill University, and his brother joined him soon after. After graduating, the two found work in “booming” Calgary, which allowed them to bring their parents over, too.
Kangarloo was born in 1985, and started skiing at age seven. In 2005, he qualified for and raced in the Junior World Ski Championships in Finland, and his quest for the Olympics began last year, when he first took out an Iranian FIS license. A mineral land negotiator for a Canadian energy company, Kangarloo balances a full-time job with his training for the Olympics with the Ski Runners.
Iran already has one spot at the Games under a FIS provision for “exotic” nations, Kangarloo said, but this will most likely go to a skier who has lived in Iran and trained with the country’s national team. If Kangarloo can achieve the “A” qualifying standard of 120 points in a sprint race, though, then Iran will be able to send him as a second athlete.
But “chasing points,” as Kangarloo describes it, can be a fickle pursuit, as the score awarded to a skier at a given race is dictated not only by his own speed, but also the skill and competitive history of the other athletes at the event. To achieve the “A” standard, Kangarloo will have to be both fast, and lucky.
Last year, at a sprint in Canmore, Alberta, Kangarloo came just two-tenths of a second away from achieving the “A” standard. He had a good race, he said, but the top-ranked athletes at the event did poorly, skewing the points upwards for the rest of the participants.
After his first three races of the year in West Yellowstone and Bozeman, Montana, Kangarloo still hasn’t been able to reach the standard. He has two weekends of racing left to do it, in Vernon, British Columbia and back in Canmore.
If everything goes right and he makes the grade, Kangarloo will then fly to Iran to train with the team and test himself in a pair of races in January, before returning home to Canada for the Games, which take place just a single day’s drive from his home.
Along the way, Kangarloo has already managed to bridge a few international boundaries, while spreading the word about Iranian skiing.
While racing in Switzerland last year, he befriended an American coach, Sverre Caldwell, who then put him in touch with New England team leader Janice Sibilia when Kangarloo needed help with ski preparation and waxing in West Yellowstone.
Before meeting Kangarloo, Sibilia said, she had been unaware of Iran’s ski community.
“When you think of Iran, you really don’t think of snow,” she said.
Now, Sibilia is pulling for Kangarloo. All he needs, she said, “is a race where everything goes his way, and the points are good—and it could happen.”
Initially, Kangarloo said, he was apprehensive about traveling to the U.S. for the Montana races, given its political tensions with Iran. But starting with his flight, Kangarloo said he was “really impressed” with the support and warmth from the Americans he has encountered, including a group lined the course to cheer for him in West Yellowstone.
Regardless of whether Kangarloo qualifies for the Games, it seems that he will have already drawn some positive attention to Iran’s ski community. After this winter, he’ll have just one job left: educating the Iranians themselves. In an article about Kangarloo published in a Tehran newspaper, the accompanying photo depicts an alpine skier mid-race.
For now, Kangarloo said that he’s relishing the experiences he’s had over the past year.
“It’s been a fun journey—an adventure for sure,” he said. “But it would certainly be nice to get these points.”
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.