Nikpai: Afganistan's first ever medal winner

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{image-afgan medal winner_22082008.jpg}Beijing, Aug 22: An Olympic bronze medal may have different meanings to different athletes, an achievement or a disappointment. For Afghan taekwondo player Rohullah Nikpai, it has more significant meaning.

"After more than 30 years of war in Afghanistan, I think this medal is a very great message for peace and the future of Afghanistan," said the 21-year-old. The bronze after tough competition against world champion Juan Antonio Ramos of Spain ended a half-century medal drought of the country since it joined the Olympic family in 1936. It missed the Sydney Games as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned Afghanistan from the Olympic Games in 1999 for the Taliban ruling.

Afghanistan's best Olympic result was Mohammed Ebrahimi's fifth place in wrestling at the Tokyo Games in 1964.

Nikpai, bronze medalist of this year's Asian championships, seized the chance of repechage, after losing to Mexican player Guillermo Perez, who later claimed the title in men's 58kg category, and made all-out efforts to fight for the medal.

He launched aggressive attacks to Ramos in the history-making match, taking a two-points lead in the first round. It was evened when the Spanish scored one point in round 2 and another point at the beginning of round 3.

Nikpai continued his offensive attacks, forcing the pre-game favorite to fall down at least twice with obvious bitter expression in his face, and managed to get two more points, while the opponent received a reduction penalty before the match ended. He won the match with 4-1.

Nikpai, one of the four-athletes delegation of Afghanistan, drew almost the same attention as the gold medalist did at the press conference.

He said following his brother, he practised taekwondo 11 years ago.

Compared with his two compatriots, 100-meter sprinters, who have never trained on a proper running track in their home country, Nikpai is more fortunate.

"My training situation is like my country's situation. It's good for me, not bad," he said.

He has a coach from South Korea and the team also has a training camp in South Korea.

His teammate Nesar Ahmad Behave, 23, a world silver medalist, will compete in the men's 68kg category on Thursday, seeking another medal for the country.

He will get a bonus of 50,000 U.S. dollars offered by a mobile company.

"I'm not sure how to deal with it," he said in the mixed zone.

However, it's for sure that he will continue the training for next Olympcis.

"I'll strive to achieve a better result in my next Olympic Games," he said.

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