This post is part of Global Voices’ special coverage London 2012 Olympics.
Afghan Taekwondo fighter Rohullah Nikpai won bronze in the men’s under-68-kg category at the 2012 Summer Olympic in London. The 25-year-old athlete matched his achievement at the Beijing Games four years ago, where he also won bronze. The two bronzes claimed by the fighter are Afghanistan’s first ever Olympic medals, turning Nikpai into a national hero in the war-torn country.
Nikpai’s Olympic success has been quite unexpected because of his background. The New York Times reports that the athlete lived in a refugee camp in Iran, and returned to Kabul four years before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Even after his return, Nikpai could train only in the early morning and late evening because he had to work as a barber to make ends meet. According to The Guardian, Nikpai comes from the Hazara ethnic minority, which has long been discriminated against by other groups in Afghanistan.
Nikpai’s 2012 Olympic bronze was met with an explosion of excitement in social media.
چقدر احساس غرور نمودم با اشک شادی نیکپاه من هم گریستم. دیشب تا آخرین لحظه ها پای تلویزیون نشستم… اما نشستنم نتیجه داد و قهرمان عزیزما همه ی ما را مفتخر گردایند. نیکپاه عزیز ما بتو ارج می نهیم. تو پرچمدار غرور از دست رفته ای این مردمان هستی…
Raymond Leong commented on Twitter:
Rohullah Nikpah is an inspiration to many. He won Afghanistan`s first Olympic medal in Beijing and he repeated it again in London!
Afghans around the world believed that Nikpai’s bronze was more valuable than the many gold or silver medals won by other countries.
In a year filled with suicide bombings, school poisonings and kidnappings, the bronze for Afghanistan was more than gold.
Nesar Ahmad Bahawi, another Afghan Taekwondo fighter, failed to beat his Italian rival Mauro Sarmiento in the repechage match for a bronze medal in men’s under-80-kg category, finishing a step away from a medal. The 28-year-old athlete who was Afghanistan’s flag-bearer during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, suffered a leg injury during the fight.
Sven T. Rebbin wrote on Twitter:
Nesar Ahmad Bahawi deserves great respect for having gone through Taekwondo battle after battle at these Olympics with a heavy injury…
Nesar Ahmad Bahawi is much more beloved today than he was yesterday. We’re proud of you.
Afghans around the world were proud of the six athletes representing Afghanistan at the London Olympics. The participation of these athletes in the top international competition has been seen as beneficial for the country’s sports. Currently, athletes in Afghanistan lack modern facilities, equipment, and the support needed to master in their sports. Engaging in sports is particularly difficult for the country’s girls and women.
Getting medals from the Olympic Games is very difficult for every athlete and for my country and me, it is even harder. The training facilities are much worse than most other countries so we cannot prepare as well. But I knew I was not going to win a medal when I came here; I am here to begin a new era for the women of Afghanistan to show people that we can do the same things that people from other countries can do. There is no difference between us.
Perhaps the most important outcome of the Afghan athletes’ participation in London Olympics and Nikpai’s bronze is a sense of unity that has emerged as hundreds of thousands of Afghans from different ethnic, regional, and religious backgrounds came together to watch the country’s athletes compete in London on TV.
تجربه اتحاد میان تمام مردم افغانستان را در طول مسابقات المپیک خارق العاده بود، آنقدر حس خوبی بود که به گفته تعدادی آرزو میکنم که سیصد و شصت و پنج روز سال المپیک باشد و ملت افغانستان متحد با هم به دری و پشتو و هزاره گی و ازبکی….شعار داده و از یک افغان خود حمایت و پشتیبانی کنند، ایا میتوان این اتحاد را در میان ملتی که همه انها مساویانه از جنگ صدمه دیده اند زنده نگه داشت…به چند روز المپیک فکر کنید که چقدر بدور از تبعیض و تنفر با یکدیگر یکجا بودید، به حس خوبی که این اتحاد در میان یک ملت دارد، به شادی که در پیروزی همه با هم داشتیم، به اندوهی که در شکست با هم تجربه کردیم…افغانستان را تنها همین اتحاد میان شما نجات خواهد داد و نه چیز بیشتر…..
This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.
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