Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Maple Grove man headed for Paris Olympics to be Gambia’s first taekwondo athlete

Two men stand with Gambia flag
Alasan Ann (left) and his coach Grandmaster Eui Lee (right) at the Taekwondo Olympics qualifications on Feb. 11 in Dakar, Senegal. Ann qualified and will represent Gambia.
Courtesy of Alasan Ann

A Maple Grove man heads to Paris next month to compete in the sport of taekwondo at the Summer Olympics. Alasan Ann, 23, will represent Gambia, where his father was born and where he holds dual citizenship.

It’s an amazing journey, especially given that he was shot in his right thigh in the Twin Cities while out with friends just a few months before his qualifying tournament. Fortunately, the bullet did not hit bone or arteries, and he was able to heal in time to compete and win.

“It was one of the scariest moments of my life,” he told MPR News. “Everything you’ve worked for can just be taken away. It helped me not take anything for granted.”

The World Taekwondo Federation describes the sport as “one of the most systematic and scientific Korean traditional martial arts, that teaches more than physical fighting skills. It is a discipline that shows ways of enhancing our spirit and life through training our body and mind.”

Ann said he first fell in love with taekwondo when he was 6 years old. He said it offered him the self-discipline that he needed.

“At first I did not like at all, because you realize it was meant to focus you and no kid wants to be focused right away, but it helped me out a lot,” he said. “I made some lifelong friends, and by the time I was 10 I was in it fully.”

Ann explained there are two sides of taekwondo: the traditional, and the sport. When someone first starts learning, they do the traditional and learn basic kicks. He compared the sport side to boxing where you get points for hitting. Matches are two minutes long. It became a full-medal Olympic sport in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics.

He said he’s excited about the food in Paris and he’s looking forward to the opening ceremony.

“I’ve always watched it as a kid, and now I’m gonna be in it,” he said. “That’s going to be insane. I’m just so excited to be able to share that moment with the people who have supported me.”

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