Mansouri's inspirational taekwondo journey takes him from Afghanistan to Paris Olympics

Athlete who fled the Taliban to Abu Dhabi and then the UK will represent IOC's Olympic Refugee Team

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Afghan taekwondo champion Farzad Mansouri, who escaped the Taliban in 2021, has set his sights on gold having been selected for the IOC's Olympic Refugee Team in Paris this summer.

Mansouri, 22, won bronze in the European Olympic qualifiers in Sofia, Bulgaria, in March to seal his place at the 2024 Games.

“I’m really happy and excited that I’m going to the Olympic Games for a second time,” Mansouri told The National.

“I will train harder with good focus and aim to win the Olympic gold medal, Inshallah.”

Mansouri was the flag-bearer for Afghanistan at the 2020 Tokyo Games that took place in 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But just weeks after returning from Japan, he was among the 114,000 who fled Afghanistan as the Taliban took over the country following the US withdrawal after 20 years of occupation.

As Mansouri’s father worked for the US-supported administration, he feared the worst, and the family managed to board a flight out of Kabul as the city fell, eventually reaching a refugee camp in Abu Dhabi.

Despite the challenging conditions, Mansouri trained as best he could for eight months while applying for asylum in various countries.

Finally, he was offered an opportunity to train with GB Taekwondo, who supported Farzad to move his life to Manchester to train alongside the very best of the UK’s taekwondo champions.

Since then, Mansouri’s fighting has gone from strength to strength.

He picked up gold medals in the European Club Championships in 2022 and 2023 in the -74kg and -80kg weight categories, and gold in the Serbia Open in 2022 and 2023.

He also claimed silver medals in the 2023 Swedish Open and 2024 Belgian Open.

His progress was enough to seal his selection for Paris where he will be part of the 36-strong Refugee Olympic Team, representing over 100 million displaced people all over the world.

“We are thrilled that Farzad has been selected to the refugee team for the Paris Olympic Games,” Paul Buxton, CEO of GB Taekwondo, told The National.

“When we began supporting Farzad, our mission was to give him a fighting chance of getting to Paris and performing in the Games.

“It is an honour to play a part in Farzad’s journey, and to contribute to the powerful commitment sport has made to helping refugees realise their sporting ambitions and Olympic dreams, despite the unimaginable challenges they face in their lives.”

In the lead up to Paris, Mansouri will head to the European Championships, which take place from May 10-12 in Serbia.

He will then go to the Luxembourg Open before completing his final preparations at the National Taekwondo Centre in Manchester alongside Team GB.

Updated: May 03, 2024, 2:48 AM