Afghan Tae Kwon Do Champ Aims for Olympic Glory

Nisar Ahmad Bahawe, 23, hopes to win a medal in tae kwon do for Afghanistan at the Beijing Olympics. i i

Nisar Ahmad Bahawe, 23, hopes to win a medal in tae kwon do for Afghanistan at the Beijing Olympics. He has been training and competing in the sport since he was 12. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Nisar Ahmad Bahawe, 23, hopes to win a medal in tae kwon do for Afghanistan at the Beijing Olympics.

Nisar Ahmad Bahawe, 23, hopes to win a medal in tae kwon do for Afghanistan at the Beijing Olympics. He has been training and competing in the sport since he was 12.

David Gilkey/NPR
Bahawe slams a teammate to the mat with a roundhouse kick to the side during a sparring match. i i

Bahawe slams a teammate to the mat with a roundhouse kick to the side during a sparring match. Bahawe won a silver medal at the 2007 tae kwon do world championships. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Bahawe slams a teammate to the mat with a roundhouse kick to the side during a sparring match.

Bahawe slams a teammate to the mat with a roundhouse kick to the side during a sparring match. Bahawe won a silver medal at the 2007 tae kwon do world championships.

David Gilkey/NPR
The M.A. Taek Won Do Association gym in Kabul, Afghanistan, serves as the Olympic training facility. i i

The M.A. Taek Won Do Association gym in Kabul serves as the Olympic training facility for Afghanistan's tae kwon do athletes. The simple gym lacks basic amenities such as showers and bathrooms. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
The M.A. Taek Won Do Association gym in Kabul, Afghanistan, serves as the Olympic training facility.

The M.A. Taek Won Do Association gym in Kabul serves as the Olympic training facility for Afghanistan's tae kwon do athletes. The simple gym lacks basic amenities such as showers and bathrooms.

David Gilkey/NPR

A member of Afghanistan's national tae kwon do team is hoping to make history this summer in Beijing by becoming the first Afghan to ever win an Olympic medal — despite meager training facilities and a lack of funds.

At dawn one morning, Afghan tae kwon do champion Nisar Ahmad Bahawe is among the men jogging in Kabul's Charinaw Park.

By evening, Bahawe is barefoot, dripping sweat and yelling battle cries as he unleashes a series of powerful spin kicks against a padded target held by a trainer.

Bahawe and the rest of his team train every night in a cramped gym, located off a dirt road in Kabul.

The team's coach is a Korean named Min Sin-hak. He speaks to his athletes in fluent Dari and calls them "the bravest people he's ever met."

The Korean beams with pride during one sparring match when a fighter from his junior team fearlessly attacks Bahawe — even though the boy is only 15 years old and barely half Bahawe's height.

The fighters take a break when the call to prayer echoes from a nearby mosque.

Several young men kneel in front of a wall, still dressed in their sweaty helmets and pads, and begin to pray.

Bahawe, meanwhile, stretches by doing a split, moving with the grace of a ballet dancer.

Though he is only 23, Bahawe has already endured a battery of operations on his knees and hands due to many injuries in the tae kwon do ring. He had to travel overseas for the surgery, because there are no sports doctors in Afghanistan.

In fact, Bahawe and his teammates have to train without many of the most basic amenities — including showers and bathrooms.

Lack of plumbing or modern facilities did not stop Bahawe, who has been training and competing in the sport since he was 12, from winning a silver medal at the tae kwon do world championships last year.

When he steps into the ring in August in Beijing, Bahawe says once again, he will be fighting for his country.

He would like to prove "for all the world," that Afghans can win an Olympic medal.

"I want to prove that Afghan sports [are] very strong. I think they are thinking that Afghans [are] not strong. But I will show them," Bahawe says.

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