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Afghan black belt eyes Olympic medal

By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Kabul

Nisar Ahmad Bahawe
Bahawe is Afghanistan's best hope for an Olympic medal

A strange cacophony of muffled thumps and high-pitched screams drifts down the dark, newly-concreted stairs as you climb up through a building site to the almost-finished taekwondo gym on the edge of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

It's a big improvement from the old hut where its members used to train, but there are still no showers.

Towering above the 40 or so young Afghans shouting out with every punch and kick is Nisar Ahmad Bahawe - Afghanistan's champion taekwondoblack belt and, at 23, the country's best hope for an Olympic medal.

He stands out as being taller, quicker and more agile than the others as they fight their way in pairs down the length of the room, spinning kicks and blocking punches.

Nisar is already a proven world class black belt and he has qualified for Beijing on his own merit rather than through a wild-card system.

'Make history'

He won a silver medal at last year's world championships and is confident he could bring home a medal this month.

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"It's very important for us because Afghanistan has never won an Olympic medal before," he said in a break during the six-hour training he has been doing every day for months.

"We want to make history and fly our flag in front of the world."

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art, brought to Kabul by an American master in 1972.

The Olympic committee sent Nisar to South Korea for training with another Olympic hopeful, also trying his chances in Beijing, and they brought a new coach back with them.

There are now 700 clubs in Afghanistan and with 25,000 competitors it is one of the most popular sports in the country.

It will be even more popular if the best in the country can become the best in the world.

The president of the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee is Mohammad Anwar Jekdelek, a barrel of a man who used to be a wrestler.

He was due to compete in the 1980 Olympics, but with the Soviet invasion he described how instead he took to the mountains for 14 years to fight as a mujaheddin.

'Good example'

He would be delighted to finally have an Olympic medal in the cabinet at the national stadium - especially after the female runner who was awarded a wild-card entry for the Beijing Games disappeared while training in Italy and is now applying for asylum.

Bahawe at training
Bahawe is training hard for the Olympics

"Bringing a medal home would help people come together as a country whatever tribe or ethnic group they are from," he said.

"It would be a good example to young people so they will take up sport rather than taking drugs."

Every day at five o'clock in the morning Nisar Ahmad Bahawe runs around Kabul Olympic Stadium - once a place where the Taleban carried out executions - now wanting to help it earn its title.

There is a lot of hope and expectation riding on the young sportsmen gathering in Beijing, but perhaps even more so here in Afghanistan where people so desperately need a bit of good news for a change.


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