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ALASAN ANN: FROM SURVIVING GUNSHOT TO EARNING A HISTORIC OLYMPIC TAEKWONDO SPOT FOR THE GAMBIA

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By Evelyn Watta

Alasan Ann, from gunshot survivor to earning a historic Olympic taekwondo spot for The Gambia (World Taekwondo.)
Alasan Ann was hanging out with friends in Minneapolis when he heard gunshots and screams.
Scared for his life, his first instinct was to run, as fast as he could.
“Not now, not ever,” the 23-year-old athlete thought to himself.
“[We] started running to our car. And while we were running, I got hit in my leg, but I didn’t stop,” he told Olympics.com, his voice trailing off.
“It was very scary… They [doctors] said, since taekwondo is a kicking sport, my muscle helped keep the bullet away from the bones and arteries.”
It was just four months before his biggest taekwondo tournament, the Olympic qualifier for Paris 2024.
“That moment right there scared me because it really made me realize that even after all the hard work, anything can be taken from you,” he told us in an exclusive interview, still visibly shaken by the memory, adding, “You can’t take anything for granted, you just got to thank God.”
The Gambian went through a difficult period following the incident, but remained hopeful of competing at the 2024 African Taekwondo Olympic Qualification Tournament in Dakar.
“It was very scary. I had a lot of a lot of dark thoughts,” he admits, sharing his biggest worry was not being able to fight again.
“They had to do a little surgery to take some of the bullet out, as there were fragments here and there.”
“It hit right above my knee. It was my golden leg. My right leg, that made it even worse.”
Thankfully for Ann, the surgery and recovery were a success, and in February he was one of 16 Africans who secured a Paris 2024 quota spots at the continental qualifying event, the first time that a Gambian has earned an Olympic berth in taekwondo.

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As National Olympic Committees have the exclusive authority for the representation of their respective countries at the Olympic Games, athletes’ participation at the Paris Games depends on their NOC selecting them to represent their delegation at Paris
As a child, it was Alasan Ann’s dream to compete in the Olympic Games. Even though he preferred football when he was younger, his mum enrolled him in martial arts classes to help improve his attention and build concentration, “It was mainly something to help me focus, as I was losing control a lot when I was younger,” he explained.
“And then when I was around 12, at a training camp, I saw my first Olympic medals belonging to Paige McPherson and Terrence Jennings. These U.S. taekwondo Olympians that I first met, inspired me,” recalled the Minnesota native, born in the USA to a Gambian father.
“After I saw those medals, I was like, ‘I didn’t even know we could go to the Olympics’. I was so excited, and I was like, ‘Oh, I really just want to get that, I want to be that…I want to be more’.”
Ann began training with his coach, Grandmaster Eui Lee at the World Taekwondo Academy in Maple Grove when he was only seven, and enjoyed great success for the U.S. age group teams.
Alasan Ann with his coach Grandmaster Eui Lee when he qualified at the 2024 African Taekwondo Olympic Qualification Tournament in Dakar.
His gifted athleticism fast-tracked his career to the upper levels of U.S. taekwondo.
“I made the U.S. national team like five or six times,” offered the 2016 Pan American junior champion.
“It was really amazing. I was winning nationals. I was a five times national champion, then I heard about the opportunity with The Gambia.”
Ann got the clearance to represent The Gambia from the start of the 2022 season. He stepped up and shone for the African nation, earning the chance to represent his fatherland at the last two World championships, keen to boost his rankings with the Paris 2024 Olympics in sight.
“For me, it was just to keep pushing and see how far I can go.”
Championships was one of the positives from Ann’s first year as a Gambian athlete.
Fighting under his new flag helped him stay motivated from his training base in the U.S., with the dream of taking Olympic glory to his ‘father’s home nation’ fuelling his drive.
On the taekwondo circuit, he became known as ‘the Goliath’, a nickname given by his fellow competitors that he fully embraced.
“I’m a little smaller, and I’m not the biggest guy in my category, I’m like 6’3 [1.90m] but most of the guys I face are like 6’6′ [1.98m],” he said.
“But I’m pretty strong. So, when I fight, they call me the Gambian Goliath because I’ll be pushing them back, I’ll be fighting heavy, and I have strong kicks.”
Those qualities were evident as the 2020 U.S. Open winner reached the final of the African Qualifying Tournament in February, defeating Gabonese Olympic silver medallist Antony Obame in the semis and securing a quota berth, four months after surviving the shooting.
“We made it, we fought, and just being able to do this…is just unbelievable.”
After securing a Paris Olympic spot he said: “I can shock the world”
Ann’s qualification made him the first Gambian to achieve an Olympic qualifying spot in taekwondo.
“It’s a great feeling…you feel the pressure too,” he offered of his hoped participation at Paris 2024 Olympics.
“You feel the weight of it as well because it’s you are the first to do it. But it’s also like you’re breaking a barrier, and it just feels like you’re pushing down a wall and being able to go the next step, especially with such a small country of The Gambia as well.”
“I have got a lot of DMs [direct messages] from people from The Gambia and here as well, thanking me or just saying congratulations.”
There is also an air of renewed confidence in his talent too.
“I just feel that I have the ability to shock the world, for sure. I’ve done it before. I’ve fought high level athletes at a young age, I’ve competed with them at the seniors. Now it’s just being able to consistently keep that up and do the same at the Olympics… I think I could go for gold.”
Ann is also inspired by Cheick Sallah Cisse’s stunning victory at Rio 2016 that earned Cote d’Ivoire a first ever Olympic gold.
“I remember when I saw that, it just made it even better. It ignited a fire in Africa, made everyone proud, and it just made it real for us. I was like, ‘I want to be that’!’” he said in the 8am interview, a few hours after his pre-dawn meal before his daily fast during Ramadan.
The fasting period, he believes, also makes him stronger athlete.
“Training during Ramadan helps me a lot mentally and with the discipline. It makes you understand how to push, especially when you’re tired and hungry… I mean, that’s the difference between a champion and a loser right there.”
As expected, he’s quite a busy in the lead up to the Olympics.
Besides training, he’s also raising funds to support his participation in the Paris 2024 Olympics and has just opened a taekwondo school in Andover, Minnesota, with the support of World Taekwondo Academy.
He wants to help mentor and train the next generation of talent, a commitment to ensure his Games participation leaves a legacy both in Africa and North America.

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