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Going for gold: Farzad Mansouri targets taekwondo success for Olympic Refugee Team

His sparring partner lunges in with a kick aimed at Mansouri’s midriff, but before he is able to make contact, Mansouri has spun, evading the kick while countering with his own powerful blow, a heel to his opponent's ribs, all in one swift movement – it impressed his coaches.

“Whoa! Yes, Farzad!” reverberates in the training hall of the National Taekwondo Centre in Manchester. His opponent swapped out, and Mansouri found his stance again, he was tired but he was ready.

This intense sparring comes at the end of a tough training session, the room is buzzing in anticipation as the fighters are working hard in preparation for the Paris Olympics 2024.

For many athletes across all sporting disciplines, getting to the Olympic Games is a lifetime achievement. For Mansouri, who last week was one of the 36 athletes selected for the Olympic Refugee Team, the goal of getting to Paris was more than that, it was a dream that got him through a prolonged period of darkness and uncertainty.

“When I train or when I go to a competition, I leave everything [behind],” Mansouri tells The National, “all I'm thinking about is winning a gold medal.”

Mansouri had only returned to his home in Kabul for a few weeks having competed in the last Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021 when the Taliban swept to power in the central Asian country, following the end of a 20-year US occupation.

Having proudly paraded the flag of the collapsing regime during the opening ceremony in Tokyo, and given his ethnic minority status andhis father’s career in the Afghan army, Mansouri and his family were forced to flee.

He remembers the panic of joining the tens of thousands of his countrymen who were also trying to escape at an overwhelmed Kabul airport.

“Some of them

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