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Page last updated at 10:41 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 11:41 UK

Afghan joy as medallist returns

Rohullah Nikpai back in Kabul
Nikpai - proud that his dream has come true

Thousands of jubilant Afghans packed Kabul's national stadium to welcome home Rohullah Nikpai, the nation's first Olympic medallist.

Nikpai, 21, who won a taekwondo bronze, was cheered by crowds of people as he was driven in an open-topped truck from the international airport to the arena.

"Nikpai brought pride to Afghanistan," Vice-President Mohammad Karim Khalili said, as the athlete looked on.

A string of speakers praised Nikpai's abilities and presented prizes to him.

I hope this medal will bring a better future for my country, both in terms of peace and friendship
Rohullah Nikpai

Earlier on Thursday, on a stopover in the Indian capital Delhi, supporters carried Nikpai on their shoulders through the airport terminal, and decked him with flower garlands.

"It is every athlete's dream to have a medal around his neck, and I feel proud that my dream has come true," he told the BBC's Moska Najib.

"I hope this medal will bring a better future for my country, both in terms of peace and friendship.

"My message to all the Afghan youth is to conquer their aspirations," he added.

"It doesn't matter what field of sport or career they are in, what matters is showing the world that our flag can rise as well."

On landing in Kabul, he was met by Vice-President Khalili, while Afghan helicopters circled over the city dropping leaflets with his picture.

"He has made the Afghan people proud," read the leaflets.

Taekwondo is one of the most popular sports in conflict-hit Afghanistan, which boasts more than 700 clubs and 25,000 competitors.

Nikpai beat world champion Juan Antonio Ramos of Spain 4-1 in a play-off for the bronze medal in the men's 58kg category.

The nation - which sent a team of four to Beijing - counted its previous best Olympic finish as a fifth place in the wrestling in 1964.

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Video - Nikpai beats GB's Harvey




SEE ALSO
Afghans win first Olympic medal
20 Aug 08 |  Taekwondo


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