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Taekwondo

A prized medal for Afghanistan

August 21, 2008
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KABUL, Afghanistan - Noor Ahmad Gayezabi said a silent prayer while watching the small family TV with his 13-year-old son. "Help Nikpai. Help Nikpai. Help Afghanistan."

Then he watched his country win its first-ever Olympic medal.

Rohullah Nikpai, 21, defeated world champion Juan Antonio Ramos of Spain yesterday to earn the bronze medal in the men's under 58-kilogram taekwondo competition, sparking applause, wide smiles, and laughter in homes, restaurants, and ice cream parlors around the country.

"When I saw that he won, I jumped up and hugged and kissed my son," Gayezabi said. "I was crying."

President Hamid Karzai immediately called to congratulate Nikpai. He also awarded him a house at the government's expense, said Humayun Hamidzada, the president's spokesman.

"I hope this will send a message of peace to my country after 30 years of war," Nikpai said.

Only four Afghan athletes came to Beijing, representing a country that had never won an Olympic medal.

Along with the president's offer of a house, Nikpai's medal comes with a cash prize - $10,000 for bronze - from Ehsanullah Bayat, chairman of the Afghan Wireless Communication Company.

"It is a great victory for Afghanistan," said Mohammad Sukran, an 18-year-old student. "In a country like Afghanistan, the only thing we hear about is violence and fighting. This is finally good news for Afghanistan." (AP)

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