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20 Aug 2008
Beijing 2008

IOC’s helping hand guides Nikpai to bronze

Rohullah Nikpai

Sometimes the story of Olympic glory is not about sporting success at the highest level, but about the journey it took to get there.

It’s not always about winning either, and although Afghanistan’s Rohullah Nikpai did not win gold at the Olympic Games in Beijing he won the hearts of a nation and a unique place in his country’s history.

When Nikpai beat Spanish world champion Juan Antonio Ramos in the taekwondo bronze medal play-off he broke down barriers too numerous to count.

He had spent much of his life in a refugee camp in Iran where the displaced drifted from the seemingly endless wars in his homeland.

It’s just about as unlikely a venue as one could imagine for a taekwondo training academy but it’s where at the age of 10 Nikpai learnt the rudimentary skills in the Korean martial art that would one day see him mount the Olympic podium.

He returned to Kabul in 2004 and with the help of government-funded facilities as well as financial and training assistance from the International Olympic Committee’s Solidarity programme, he started to develop a career on the international stage.

He reached the last 16 in the Asia Games in Doha in 2006 and went to the Beijing Science and Technology University Gymnasium in reasonably assured mood.

He lost in the main bracket quarter-finals but under the repechage system operated by taekwondo had a second bite at the cherry at winning one of two bronzes.

He enjoyed a narrow 2-1 win over Britain’s Michael Harvey in the opening round of the repechage and then produced the performance which earned his place in the Olympic annals.

He beat Ramos 4-1 to earn his country’s first-ever medal to spark scenes of spontaneous celebrations in his war-torn homeland.

President Karzai personally called Nikpai to congratulate him on his performance and awarded gun an exclusive apartment in Kabul as a demonstration of what can be achieved despite the most grievous of training environments.

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