Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The muaythai mother winning gold at the world championships.

Winning an IFMA gold medal, and doing it while caring for a young child might seem impossible but not for Irina Larinova.

The Russian world champion and her 14-month old son Fedor are a regular sight at IFMA muaythai championships. Last year she claimed the European title when he was just seven months old. And at the World Championships in Minsk she took 75kgs gold as the little boy watched from the stands.

Asked how she combines motherhood and muaythai, she said simply: ‘I’d like to say to all the girls from all national teams: please don’t be afraid of giving birth to children. It’s not an ending for your sport or career perspective. Trust me. Your child will be your inspiration and motivation to succeed and pursue your goals. When there are people who have your back and support you, you can do anything that’s on your mind.’

The 27-year old started muaythai in 2012, and immediately fell in love with this ancient sport.

She said: ‘Muaythai is not just my favorite sport, but all my life is somehow connected with it. Firstly, I enjoy training and the effort is worth it because of the result. Secondly, I like the environment: my coach, my friends from the gym and the national team.’

Irina Larionova Russia receives her Gold Medal in 75kgs at the IFMA World Championships 2017
Image Arthur Mazur for IFMA
She praises her coach Alexey Motorin as ‘the world’s best’ saying his support was crucial in helping her continue after becoming pregnant.

Irina had early success with amateur muaythai, qualifying for the national team by winning the Russian Cup in 2015. She went on to take bronze at the IFMA World Championships that year.

Shortly afterwards, Irina became pregnant. A hugely exciting event, it could have signaled the end for her muaythai.

She said: ‘I never thought about abortion, but neither did I think about leaving muaythai. I felt I just started, and taken the first steps towards being a world champion. That’s why I decided to come back as soon as I could after giving birth to my child.’

Of course it’s one thing to make that decision, and another to make it happen.
She said: ‘I do have less time in the day now, and training became harder to cope with. Sometimes my body seemed to belong to someone else, and I was sore.

‘Even simple exercises were tough but practice makes it easier. Since I’ve had Fedya my schedule has to match with his timetable, and that doesn’t always agree with my training process. So I’ve got to miss workouts sometimes.’

And when they say it takes a village to raise a child, you can add it takes a national team to raise an athlete’s child! The progressive attitude of Irina’s coach, and support from the national team and Russian Muaythai Federation are crucial to her success.

And of course Irina has extra motivation when facing the best female muaythai athletes in the IFMA rings. She said: ‘Being a mother gives me great motivation in the ring, that’s for sure! Sometimes when I’ve no energy to continue the fight, my coaches say to me: “Why did you come here? You left your son for this” or “Your son is watching you!” It’s really motivating!’

Other coaches at the World Championships in Minsk took to social media to say her morning runs with the Fedor in his buggy inspired their athletes.

Irina just laughed, saying: ‘That’s awesome! Yes, many coaches and athletes from different countries come to me saying: “You are so cool! And Fedya is too” It’s enjoyable, pleasant and really awesome experience to be someone’s inspiration.

Follow Irina Larinova on Instagram:  Irina Larinova muaythai 

This story was written for IFMA International Federation of Muaythai Amateur.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Wonder woman and little girls daydreaming

Wonder Woman across the ages; Gal Gadot and Lynda Carter
PIC: @reallyndacarter instagram

Going to see Wonder Woman the movie and wanting to blog about it reminded me this blog has been neglected for the easy hits of social media.

I've been doing a lot of work on women in sport over the last few months, especially women in muaythai - so will be sharing that here to get the blog back up and running. You can also find me on  Twitter @realgirlsport most days and occasionally updating on Facebook also @realgirlsport

So Wonder Woman! I was nervous going to see it having grown up watching the TV series on Saturday mornings. If any popculture programme was responsible for getting me into a muaythai ring, it was Lynda Carter kicking ass in those high-heeled boots. Little did I know then that high-heels, cleavage and long wind-blown hair all go out the window when real ass-kicking happens.

Still, back then there were very few role-models around for women who thought there must be more to do with your body than posing in nice clothes.  And great to see on Carter's Instagram that she has aged so well and avoided cat-eye-surgery traps.

I loved the film, you should go see it. The Amazon island is great - so many women training together under a female general (Robin Wright obviously)  and really fighting, really going at it with weapons and brute force. Great to see.

But what made the movie for me was that 'Diana' doesn't lose that woman's instinct to notice pain and inequality. They didn't make her into a macho superhero with high heels - she has empahy, concern, humour and all the good things that little girls are made of, just with added Godkiller.


 Lots more clips on WonderWomanFilm

Monday, January 23, 2017

Iranian women back in the muaythai ring

Three Iranian women stepped over the ropes into a muaythai ring representing their country for the first time in over five years – holding true to their dreams and bringing home some bling even though they are not able to train with national coach.

Taking part in the IFMA World Cup in Kazan, Russia, the three along with a female referee and female government official, sat down with me (through an interpreter) to talk about women’s fighting in IR Iran. *

Masuomeh Tajir has been practicing muaythai for eight years, and won bronze at the IFMA World Championships in 2011.

She said: ‘For the last five or six years we were not allowed to fight in the ring so we could not compete in muaythai. So we kept ourselves busy with kickboxing. We could do light-contact, but mostly training.’

“I get a lot of confidence from muaythai. I feel powerful as a woman from doing it.”
Her teammate Fatemeh Yavari has been training for about five years and doing other martial arts too. She said at first muaythai was just a hobby and handball was her main sport. She also took part in Vovinam (a martial art from Vietnam).

Fatemeh said, smiling: “I took part in Vovinam contests, winning silver in France in 2013, but I was sometimes disqualified because I was a bit aggressive. That sport is very light-contact and the referees didn’t like my style.

“So this tournament is the first one we have trained fully in muaythai. We have been training all this time, we just couldn’t get in the ring.”  

She added: “My family said to me I should stop muaythai, they were worried I could get hurt but I can’t stop. I have too much passion for muaythai to stop doing it.”
And they need the passion, as the official international representative of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Homeira Ahmad Majd explained:

“We have female referees now, but no female coaches. When I see the standard at this tournament, I can see our girls need more support from our government. We have great male coaches, but our girls need a female coach so they can be trained properly.

“At the moment they train by themselves as it’s not appropriate to train with a male coach.”
Muslim fighters at IFMA events can wear this outfit including hijab, must be white
 Saeedah Ghafari has been training muaythai for three years, she told me:

“You know because I’m so tall, people tried to pressure me to do basketball or volleyball in Iran. But my passion was for muaythai. So I pushed myself to train hard.

“I couldn’t go to tournaments because I started exactly at the moment there a ban on competition in the rings. But when I sparred with girls who had that experience, I did well so I figured that I had potential and should keep going.”

Saeedah said she thinks girls doing sport in Iran need support from international groups like IFMA.

She said: “This will help the sport in our country as well. At the moment not many people know exactly what it is we are doing, but with more support from our muaythai family I know we can make it more popular.”

Referee Arezoo Maghdury wears the hijab while working in the ring as well as the normal referee uniform
The last woman on the sofa was Arezoo Maghdury who’s been a coach and referee for 24 years, first in Vovinam and kickboxing; and now a muaythai referee.

She said: “Last year the kickboxing championships was in Spain, and Iran sent me as a referee. It was the first time they sent a woman as a referee to international competition.

“We had problems at first about wearing a hijab while being in the ring. But when they saw I could do a good job they allowed me in the ring – we showed we could impress them!”

Arezoo said the key issue is sport should allow women to be seen. She said: “We are very skilled, we should be seen on the world stage. Sports should not limit our fighters or referees because we are wearing the hijab.”

Follow the IR Iran muaythai team on Instagram

Read more about IFMA’s work to promote women in muaythai.

*A version of this interview first appeared on the IFMA website.
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