Morteza Mehrzadselakjani, who stands two meters and 46 centimeters (eight foot and one inch) tall, is Iran’s sitting volleyball team’s not-so-secret weapon.
Mehrzadselakjani, better known as Mehrzad, is the world’s tallest paralympian and the joint-second tallest man. On Saturday, he helped Iran successfully defend its Paralympic title with a 3-1 (25-21 25-14 19-25 25-17) victory over the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC).
Iran has now won seven gold medals in the event since 1988, cementing the country’s dominance in the sport.
Mehrzad, who was also a member of the winning team at the Rio Paralympics five years ago, had 25 spikes, two blocks, and an ace in the final against the RPC, which was the only team to take a set from Iran throughout the tournament.
He led Iran in scoring with 28 points, with teammate Meisam Ali Pour contributing 17 and RPC’s Viktor Milenin scoring 30.
At the Paralympics, the Iranian team celebrates successfully defending their sitting volleyball title.
Mehrzad, 33, began playing sitting volleyball for the national team six months before the Rio Olympics and admitted before the final that the sport had changed his life.
“Before starting to play sitting volleyball, I was sitting at home because I was ashamed of my height,” he told reporters after Iran’s semifinal victory against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“After I was on a TV program, the sitting volley program asked me to join and it was like magic. It changed my life a lot.”
Mehrzad stands over six feet tall when seated on the floor with his arms raised, making him an invaluable volleyball player.
However, he admitted that receiving so much attention in comparison to his teammates makes him feel uneasy.
“It’s very difficult for me,” said Mehrzad, who was diagnosed with acromegaly, a condition in which the body produces too much growth hormone, when he was young. A pelvis fracture sustained in a bicycle accident as a teenager prevented his right leg from growing, making it shorter than his left and making walking difficult.
“I’m just taller than the other members of the team, but all of the team is very important, they each play their role in the best way,” he added.
“I’m just a (team) member, I also try to play in the best way … Yes, my physical situation is very important for sitting volleyball. I’m just using my potential.”
During the men’s sitting volleyball final, Mehrzad competes at the net against RPC’s Viktor Milenin.
Before facing the RPC in the final, Iran defeated Germany, Brazil, China, and Bosnia and Herzegovina in Tokyo.
Iran has won seven golds and two silvers in sitting volleyball in the past nine Paralympic Games, making it the most successful country in the sport.