Afghans rejoice over first Olympic medal

Rohullah Nikpai won bronze and with it Afghanistan's first Olympic medal. The president will give him a house as reward.

Afghanistan's Rohullah Nikpai.
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KABUL // The winner of Afghanistan's first Olympic medal is to be given a house as a reward on the orders of President Hamid Karzai, a palace official said today. Rohullah Nikpai thrilled Afghans with his bronze medal in the men's 58kg taekwondo. "It's a time of big celebrations for all of us," said shopkeeper Khair Mohammad. "I'm so happy that despite the war, lack of sports facilities and training Nikpai managed to secure a medal."

Many Afghans were unable to watch last night's bout live because power is intermittent and only some households have access to cable television. But a recording of Nikpai's victory over the world flyweight champion Juan Antonio Ramos of Spain was later played over and over on local stations. "It is indeed a big honour and a matter of great happiness for all of Afghanistan, for this is the first time an Afghan athlete has managed to win a medal," said Taj Mohammad Ahmazada, head of archives at Afghan National Radio.

President Karzai personally called Nikpai to congratulate him on winning the medal, the palace official said. Nikpai stayed cool and grew in confidence as the bronze-medal bout went on, playing off a supportive crowd and burying the Spaniard in the third round. He fell to his knees after the referee called time and wept after embracing his coaches. Nikpai is sure to get a hero's welcome when he returns home.

The head of a local welfare organisation had already promised rewards for Afghan medal winners, with US$10,000 (Dh36,279) for a bronze. *Reuters