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29 May 2008
IOC News , Beijing 2008

Keita looks to kick-start Mali’s Olympic dream

Series on Olympic Scholarship Holders Beijing 2008: today Daba Modibo Keita.

In the early 1960s, Taekwondo Master Kim Young Tae travelled to Ivory Coast to bring the Korean martial art to Western Africa; at the end of the 1960s, one of his students took it upon himself to spread the word in neighbouring Mali. Forty years later, taekwondo is the most popular sport in that country, and Daba Modibo Keita has a realistic chance of winning Mali’s first-ever Olympic medal in Beijing this summer.

Hopes of a nation
With over 150 clubs and 500 black belts among 15,000 exponents, taekwondo’s popularity has taken on phenomenal proportions in a country that is Africa’s seventh largest but one of the world’s poorest. Keita knows he carries the hopes of a nation into the Olympic arena, but breaking new ground for his country should hold few fears for him as last year, despite a torn back muscle, he became Mali’s first ever world champion.

“Almost unthinkable”

“Winning the world title was almost unthinkable for an African, or someone from a developing nation,” said Keita, who was born in Ivory Coast but moved with his family to Mali in 2000. He is one of three brothers who practise taekwondo - for good measure two of his five sisters are blue belts. “I know the whole of Mali is hoping and praying Modibo brings back the first Olympic gold medal in its history,” he says.

Olympic Solidarity support
After spending two years in France, Keita now trains in Virginia, USA. “I’ve received Olympic Solidarity support since 2005 and it’s thanks to this scholarship that I’m world champion and have qualified for the Olympic Games,” he says. “It’s helped me enormously, and it helps all African athletes. Given the same conditions, there are many others who could compete with those from more developed regions.”

“Africa needs this medal”

For the time being the spotlight is firmly on Keita, and he has no intention of letting the moment pass him by. “For any athlete the Olympic Games is a dream,” he said. “It’s the highest summit in sport. I’ve already won something just by going to the Games, first to represent my country, then the whole of Africa. Because Africa really needs this medal.”

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