Niger's Abdoul Razak Issoufou aiming to become nation's first Olympic champion

Abdoulrazak Issoufou of Niger competes against Dmitriy Shokin of Uzbekistan during the Men's +80kg Semi-final Taekwondo match at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Abdoulrazak Issoufou of Niger competes against Dmitriy Shokin of Uzbekistan during the Men's +80kg Semi-final Taekwondo match at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

After a silver medal at the Rio 2016 Games, the taekwondo athlete is looking to write his name into the history books at Tokyo 2020

Abdoul Razak Issoufou became a household name in Niger after becoming just the second athlete from the west African nation to win an Olympic medal when he clinched silver in the men's +80kg competition at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.

Now with a few months to go until the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Games, the former world champion is hoping to win Niger their first ever Olympic gold medal.

"I want to win gold in Tokyo for the Nigerien people," Issoufou told Agence France-Presse. "I sacrifice myself, I train three times a day."

Issoufou already secured his spot in the +80kg category at Tokyo 2020 in late 2019 after being one of the top five athletes in the World Taekwondo Olympic rankings.

The successes of Rio 2016

Until the age of 16, Issoufou had to go against his parents wishes to practice taekwondo after the death of his cousin, who had a heart attack after a taekwondo training session.

The 26-year-old recalled having to hide his medals from his mother.

"She confiscated [my taekwondo uniform] that I bought in secret with my money," said Issoufou.

"In 2011, she learned that I was selected for the national team. A cousin pleaded my case and she said 'OK, but you have no right to make mistakes'."

While training, Issoufou was originally aiming for the Tokyo 2020 Games, however he was able to qualify for Rio 2016 after beating his idol two-time world champion Modibo Keita of Mali during the quarter-finals of African Taekwondo Olympic qualification tournament.

He would go on to win silver at that tournament.

In Rio, after beating Frenchmen M'Bar N'Diaye in the preliminary round and Brazilian Maicon Siqueira in the quarter-finals, he had a surprising victory over world No.1 Dmitry Shokin to make the final against Azerbaijani Radik Isayev. In the end, Issoufou came away with a silver medal, but it wasn't just any silver medal.

It was Niger's second Olympic medal in it's history after boxer Issaka Daboré won bronze at the Munich 1972 Olympics.

The Nigerien was inspired by Ivorian Cheick Cisse's gold medal winning performance the day prior.

“That showed me,” Abdoulrazak told media after the gold medal match, “It is possible to win, even at the last moment.”

Silver medallist Abdoulrazak Issoufou Alfaga of Niger celebrates on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men's +80kg Gold Medal contest at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Silver medallist Abdoulrazak Issoufou Alfaga of Niger celebrates on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men's +80kg Gold Medal contest at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

Niger the future of taekwondo

Taekwondo has a chance to flourish in Niger with Issoufou hoping that his country can become a world powerhouse one day. The sport has grown on the continent with African nations taking home six Olympic medals since Beijing 2008.

However, Issoufou explains this has come from social causes.

"In Africa, we fight in the street," he told Agence France-Presse.

"You have to be the strongest. Even among children, anything is allowed. But I tell young people that you have to fight on the tatami and not in the street."

Issoufou recalled the club he used to train at which didn't even have the appropriate floor.

"It shows that no matter what the conditions are where you train, tomorrow you can become like Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo."

It's been a mission of the two-time African Games gold medallist to teach the sport of taekwondo to the next generation.

"That's been my mission from the beginning because for me, it's to show the youth how one can become a champion, because before we didn't believe that a Nigerien could be a world champion and an Olympic medallist," he said.