In the summer of 1945, the Allied forces stationed in Abadan decided to celebrate their victory in World War II. A swimming competition sounded appropriate enough, considering the oil town's blistering heat. Britons, Americans and Australians signed up. So did Mohammad Kazem Asareh, a 24-year-old who had just been employed by the oil company.
The event was to be held at the Bereym Swimming Pool. “I wasn't too enthusiastic at first,” Asareh recalled. “But my friends encouraged me to take part. I finally did and I won first place in the 100-yard breast stroke. American and British swimmers came in second and third.”
Asareh savored his victory. Four years earlier, he had lost a chance to compete in the national swimming championships in Tehran when the Allies invaded the country.
“In 1940, me and other champion swimmers in Khuzestan were dispatched to Tehran to take part in the national championships,” he said. “The Amjadiyeh sports complex had not been built yet and the competitions were held at the swimming pool in Manzariyeh (north Tehran).”
“Well, it wasn't really a swimming pool,” he added. “It was a water reservoir built to irrigate farms in the summer. I came in third after two guys from Tehran, Mehdi Golesorkhi and Nader Sharmini. The following year I improved my speed and became the swimming champion of Khuzestan. And again I was a member of the Khuzestan team that went for the national title in Tehran.
“We were more experienced and better trained. My performance in the preliminary races was better than the previous year and I could have won a higher ranking in the final round, which was going to be held on Aug. 27, 1941.”
On the morning of Aug. 25, British and American forces invaded Iran from the south and Russian troops from the north. The country was in chaos. “Everything was shut down, even the shops and bakeries in Tehran. It had a very negative impact on our spirit,” he said. “We still haven't forgotten those painful memories.”
It was no surprise then that defeating the British, American and other Allied swimmers in Abadan after the war was so sweet for Asareh. He not only beat the invaders but also proved they were not as invincible as they appeared to be.
Years went by. Asareh didn't enter another swimming match with foreigner competitors. Until last summer.
While visiting his children in Williamsburg, Virginia, he found out about the Senior Olympics. “It was the last day to sign up for the competition,” he said. “I signed for three of the four categories in the 70-74 age group.”
To his own astonishment, Asareh won first place in the 50-yard breast stroke, breaking the previous year's record by two seconds. He also came in second in the 50-yard free style and the 50-yard backstroke.
But his greatest achievement came this year, on the 50th anniversary of the Allied victory in WWII.
Last June, he entered Virginia's Golden Olympics, which is considered more important than the Senior Olympics. Asareh not only finished first in the 50-yard breast stroke, but also broke the all-time state record by 0.22 seconds, coming in at 48.59 seconds. In the 100-yard breast stroke, he slipped at the starting line and finished second.
Asareh was first attracted to swimming when he was 18. He went to watch the Khuzestan swimming championships, held under the Old Bridge in the chilling waters of Dez River, which runs through his hometown of Dezful.
“Most Dezfulis learn to swim at an early age,” he said. “We all know that swimming is a basic sport. It's very useful for the young. It trains their body and spirit and at the same time it's a lot of fun.”