Iran celebrates its athletes who have done well in a sport that has ancient roots.

Iran’s Olympians have staged a triumphant return back home, with their best ever medal haul at the recently-concluded London Olympics. In terms of overall world ranking, Iran finished 17th, ahead of better known competitors such as Brazil, Sweden and even the tiny sprint powerhouse Jamaica.

On their return, the Iranian squad became the toast of a nation hungry for world success. But the ones to receive maximum accolades were the weightlifters and wrestlers, whose impressive medal tally struck a deep emotional chord among Iranians. The standout among the lifters was the amazing Behdad Salimi, who lifted a mind-jolting 455 kg, breaking his own record set a year earlier at Paris. The previous record too was held by an Iranian, evidencing the country’s traditional domination of the sport.

The Iranians also dominated the arena of wrestling; an ancient sport that resonates deeply in Iran’s history. Iranian wrestlers plucked three gold medals in the Greco-Roman category, along with one silver and two bronzes in free-style. The Iranian youth as well as the tech-savvy clerics, not to mention the country’s hardnosed but proud politicians, rejoiced at the success, setting alight the social media networks both at home and abroad.

There is a reason why successes in wrestling, weightlifting along with Taekwondo make such a heady impact on the Iranian psyche. The three emerged from the ancient Persian sport Varzesh-e-Bastani.

Like Yoga, Varzesh-e-Bastani goes far beyond the physicality of wrestling and training, for, an element of meditation is a vital part of its harmonious mix. The sport, in its essence, seeks to build inner strength through an accumulation of physical power. In the tradition of the East, Varzesh-e-Bastani is woven around an iron-clad moral code. Thus, practitioners of the craft are social role models because they are supposed to have highly developed qualities of kindness and ethics, and are bestowed with the responsibility of protecting local communities in the face of external danger. Historians say that Varzesh-e-Bastani originated around fourth century A.D. when Persians were under the influence of the Mithraic religion, named after the Persian god Mithra. The Zoorkhaneh or the house of strength, where the sport is practised, continues to remain decorated with symbolic artefacts drawn from Iran’s ancient past.