“People look at me like I have two heads,” said James Ravannack, describing the reaction he gets when he explains to people what a fabulous time he had in Iran. Ravannack, president of USA Wrestling, told Al-Monitor that he “can’t wait to go back” and wants to take his family along to stay for a month. […]
For Americans, who tend to view Iran through the lens of the 1979 hostage crisis or President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” speech, going to Iran and actually meeting its people can be mind-blowing.
Robby Smith, 27, the number one US heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestler, told Al-Monitor that the reception he got from Iranian fans was “the most incredible I’ve ever experienced.” […]
The Iranians kept chanting, “ ‘R. Smith’ and ‘USA, USA!’ ” Smith said. The same thing happened after he came from behind against an Armenian wrestler and when he returned, in plain clothes, toward the end of the event. “Thousands of Iranians chanting ‘USA!’” […] Fraser, who estimates that he has visited 50 countries in 19 years with USA Wrestling, said, “Iran was, if not the top, then at the top” of all of them. He added, “[Iranians] are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They treated us like royalty.” […]
This reporter was present in 1998 when US wrestlers returned to Iran for the first time since the 1979 revolution. The US flag was displayed in Tehran’s Azadi stadium — not burned as usual in an anti-American demonstration — and Iranian fans cheered as much or more for the Americans as they did for their own team. […]
A unique feature of the recent trip to Iran by the US wrestlers is that their current team leader — a Minneapolis wrestling enthusiast named Christina “Kiki” Kelley — is a woman. […] Kelley, who like the other members of the US delegation, had expected a grim, strict Islamic state, came prepared with ultra-conservative black clothes — which elicited giggles, she said, from many Iranians. Asked to participate in the opening ceremonies for the competition, she changed into red, white and blue.
“I kept my head bowed until we were two-thirds of the way around, when I realized that men were standing and that they were not booing, they were cheering,” […]
Kelley was invited by her Iranian hosts to stay an extra six days, which gave her a chance to travel to Isfahan and to go to schools, an orphanage and numerous cultural sites, including a private art collection at the parliament in Tehran. She, like Ravannack, said she wants to go back with her family and is also considering becoming a sports and cultural ambassador to Iran if the US government decides to appoint one.