Refugee athlete Abdullah Sediqi makes proud Olympic bow

CHIBA, JAPAN - JULY 25: Zhao Shuai of Team China (L) competes against Abdullah Sediqi of IOC Refugee Team during the Men's -68kg Taekwondo Round of 16 contest on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Makuhari Messe Hall on July 25, 2021 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
CHIBA, JAPAN - JULY 25: Zhao Shuai of Team China (L) competes against Abdullah Sediqi of IOC Refugee Team during the Men's -68kg Taekwondo Round of 16 contest on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Makuhari Messe Hall on July 25, 2021 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

Sediqi fled Afghanistan to continue a career in the sport he loves before competing on the biggest stage and giving Olympic champ Zhao Shuai a fright. Read his story here.

Abdullah Sediqi has lived his dream of competing in taekwondo at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 as part of the IOC Olympic Refugee team .

Sediqi escaped armed gangs in Afghanistan and set out for Europe on foot, enduring endless 12-hour day walks, to arrive in Belgium where he trained in a refugee camp. The pandemic has hit him hard too as he lost his mother to coronavirus before he could return to see her again.

Chosen on the Refugee Team, he was handed a near-impossible task in his very first fight, facing reigning Olympic champion Zhao Shuai .

Unfazed, he put up fierce resistance to the Chinese gold medallist from Rio but was eventually eliminated on a 22-20 score.

The Chinese taekwondoin's camp was clearly rattled by Sediqi's quality and determination with the underdog ahead 5-2 in the first round thanks to a barrage of kicks and punches to the body.

After Round 2 it was 11-11.

Zhao had to use all his experience as his Belgian-based opponent fought right to the end, the most spectacular moment of the bout coming in the final seconds when Sediqi pulled off an incredible spinning kick to the body for four points.

While it wasn't enough to take the match into golden score, the defeated Refugee Athlete could leave the Makuhari Messe Hall with his head held high, knowing that he had given it his all.

At 24, he has time to learn from his first Olympic appearance and come back stronger at Paris 2024.

Sediqi's defiance and bravery in defeat comes as no surprise considering he has been fighting the odds since he was eight years old.

It is a story of escape and survival, resilience and refusing to give up.

"There were days I walked for 12 hours straight"

Taekwondo has been an outlet for Sediqi since he was a child, a way to forget the war, the constant danger, the insecurity.

When they tried to take that away too - armed gangs threatening his life if he continued to take part in taekwondo competitions - he knew he had to escape.

Fleeing to Europe four years ago, it was an odyssey.

"It was a gruelling mission, there were days I walked for 12 hours straight," he said .

Finally finding a place to be in Wilrijk, a neighbourhood of Antwerp, he could finally get back to training, and his talent and dedication brought results.

Working hard in Wilrijk with coach Alireza Naser Azadani, he won silver at the 2019 Spanish Open before representing World Taekwondo as a refugee athlete at the 2019 World Championships.

There in Manchester he reached the last 64 in his weight category.

Then disaster struck, globally and personally with the pandemic sweeping the planet.

"My mother died of coronavirus six months ago," he told Taekwondo Vlaanderen (Flanders Taekwondo) , revealing that he was not able to see his mother before her death from COVID-19.

"Her death was difficult for me – I had not seen her since my arrival in Belgium. Suddenly, you are told she is seriously ill; a while later she was gone."

Again, taekwondo was there for him as he threw himself into training, preparing and learning.

Some good news came when he was given an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship to pursue his sport, an award which he told the Tokyo 2020 website last year was a "moment of peace".

Then on 8 June, he was among the 29 athletes named to represent the IOC Refugee Olympic Team at Tokyo 2020.

"Countries can come together (through) sport, it doesn't matter who you are. Black, white, woman, man, or what(ever) country they're from.

"At the Olympics (they're all) from one place."

Now he's been at that place and experienced his first Games, there could be more to come from Abdullah Sediqi whose journey is far from over.