Afghan Tae Kwon Do Champ Aims for Olympic Glory A 23-year-old member of Afghanistan's national tae kwon do team hopes to make history this summer in Beijing by becoming the first Afghan to ever win an Olympic medal. His attempt comes despite meager training facilities and a lack of funds.
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Afghan Tae Kwon Do Champ Aims for Olympic Glory

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Afghan Tae Kwon Do Champ Aims for Olympic Glory

Afghan Tae Kwon Do Champ Aims for Olympic Glory

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The Beijing Olympics begin on August 8th, and you'd better believe until then thousands of athletes will be training furiously, hoping they can bring home the gold, or silver, or bronze.

Among them are two Afghans from Afghanistan's National Tae Kwon Do team. They don't have much when it comes to training facilities or money, but they still hope to be the first Afghans ever to win Olympic medals.

From Kabul, NPR's Ivan Watson has this profile.

IVAN WATSON: It's dawn, and the sun is starting to peak through the trees in Kabul's Shar-i-Nau Park. Among the Afghan men jogging here is a tall, 23-year-old named Nisar Ahmad Baawe. He is an Afghan Tae Kwon Do champion who hopes to make history for his country this summer at the Olympics in Beijing.

Mr. NISAR AHMAD BAHAWE (Tae Kwon Do Champion): Maybe I will be the first medal in history of Afghanistan, Olympic medal.

(Soundbite of shouting)

WATSON: By evening, Nisar 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.

(Soundbite of shouting)

WATSON: Nisar and the Afghan National Tae Kwon Do team train every night in this cramped gym located off a dirt road in Kabul.

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)

WATSON: The exercise may sound comical, but the flying kicks these fighters deliver to each others' bodies are no joke.

(Soundbite of shouting)

WATSON: The team's coach is a Korean named Min Sin-hak. He calls this punishing exercise a warm-up.

They're hurting each other.

Mr. MIN SIN-HAK (Tae Kwon Do Instructor): No, this is not hurt. You know, they are playing now. This is just a warm-up.

WATSON: Coach Hak speaks to his athletes in fluent Dari. He calls them the bravest people he's ever met.

(Soundbite of whistle)

WATSON: The Korean beams with pride when during one sparring match, a fighter from his junior team fearlessly attacks Nisar, even though the boy is only 15 years old and barely half Nisar's height. The fighters take a break when the call to prayer echoes from a nearby mosque.

(Soundbite of prayer)

WATSON: Several young men kneel in front of a wall, still dressed in their sweaty helmets and pads, and begin to pray. Nisar, meanwhile, stretches by doing a split, moving with the grace of a ballet dancer. Though he's only 23, Nisar has already endured a battery of operations on his knees and hands due to many injuries in the Tae Kwon Do ring. To get the surgery, he had to travel overseas because there are no sports doctors in Afghanistan. In fact, Nisar and his teammates have to train without many of the most basic amenities.

There's no showers here?

Mr. BAHAWE: There is no shower.

WATSON: Is there a bathroom?

Mr. BAHAWE: No, we don't have bathroom.

WATSON: Lack of plumbing or modern facilities did not stop Nisar from winning a silver medal at the Tae Kwon Do World Championships last year. When he steps into the ring this August in Beijing, Nisar says once again, he will be fighting for his country.

Mr. BAHAWE: I like to prove for all the world that we can get the Olympic medal. I want to prove that the Afghan sports is very strong. I think they are thinking that Afghan is not strong, but I'll show them how is Afghan people.

WATSON: Ivan Watson, NPR News, Kabul.

NORRIS: At, you can watch a video profile of Nisar Bahawe. You'll see him training and learn more about his Olympic aspirations.

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