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An Iranian Olympian carries the weight of a nation

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Training at a special camp with a dozen other members of the Iranian national squad, Salimi works on honing his technique and strength. He is methodical and patient. When he makes an attempt and fails, he tries again. When he injures his hand slightly, he continues, unperturbed. His Olympic dream awaits. And all of Iran will be watching.

"Nothing will satisfy me in the Olympics except a gold medal," says Salimi, during a break. "I am going to London to take it and bring it back home. I did not wish just to be an Olympian; my serious desire has been no less than a gold medal."

While Iran has a long tradition of producing strongmen, Salimi's first instinct was not to be one of them. Growing up in the remote town of Ghaemshahr – known for producing big men who excel at wrestling and weightlifting – Salami wanted to try gymnastics.

Then a friend suggested his body type was more suited to weightlifting. He visited a local club and fit right in with the dreamers of strength and greatness.

"I come from a simple, ordinary family – not poor, not rich, just a warm atmosphere of family," says Salimi. "My father is a retired teacher and nobody was a professional athlete, but they all encouraged me."

Inspiration came in many forms. "When I moved from gymnastics to weightlifting, I used to watch Hossein Rezazadeh's victories and felt that I wanted to be like him," recalls Salimi.

The weightlifter knows that expectations are high. The Iranian team coach is Kourosh Bagheri, himself a former world champion.

"I have less than 1 percent doubt that he will snatch a gold in London," says Mr. Bagheri. "The Olympics is not a small place. All of the world's stars are gathering there to win, and, of course, to compete with them is not easy. But Behdad has strength, power, and confidence. He can do it."

Salimi has become something of a celebrity in his hometown – and, in fact, throughout Iran. After his workout, a group of kids come over to have their photo taken with him. He patiently obliges. When he goes out in public, he's approached by so many people now that he says it sometimes becomes "too much." But Salimi appreciates the adulation.

"I can never pass by and ignore the people's warm greetings, leaving their sincere emotions unanswered," he says.

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