Alasan Ann Makes History at the Paris Olympics

by | Jul 2024

Maple Grove’s Alasan Ann, 23, qualified in February for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Maple Grove’s Alasan Ann, 23, qualified in February for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Photos: Chris Emeott

Taekwondo athlete first to compete in Olympics for The Gambia.

When Alasan Ann takes the world stage this summer to compete at the Paris Olympics, win or lose, he will already have made history. In February, the 23-year-old Maple Grove resident became the first athlete representing The Gambia to qualify for the Olympics in taekwondo. Though he was born in the U.S., Ann meets the criteria to represent The Gambia because his father hails from the African country.

“It was insane, really,” Ann says of qualifying. “I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock.”

It’s a far cry from his humble beginnings in the sport. Ann figures he was just 6 or 7 years old when he walked through the doors of World Taekwondo Academy in Maple Grove for the first time.

“When he first came, his mom was just looking for an outlet,” says grandmaster Eui Lee, Ann’s coach and a decorated taekwondo athlete in his own right. “He had so much energy, but he lacked focus.”

Ann’s mother enrolled him in the after-school programs. At the time, Ann didn’t know what to expect of taekwondo. “I thought it was super cool with all the belts and ninja stuff,” he says.

But it wasn’t love at first kick. “I was mad,” Ann says. “Like, ‘Why am I here? I can’t get away with anything.’”

Learning discipline was hard, but it paid off. By the time Ann was 12, Lee started to notice his true potential. “He was bigger and not as athletic,” Lee says. “But he was fearless. He went out there and competed. Whatever happened, happened.”

Alasan Ann

Ann competed in his first national competition at age 12. Two years later, he made the nationals team. By 16, he was competing in trials to make the U.S. team. “Step by step, I was getting closer,” Ann says. “And the closer I got, the stronger the passion became.”

For the last decade, the 2019 Maple Grove Senior High School graduate has traveled around the world from the United Arab Emirates to Costa Rica to his favorite stop so far, South Korea, competing at the highest level of the sport. But it was a competition in Paris that really whet his appetite for the Olympics. “It helped fuel the fire,” Ann says.

Before he could head to the qualifying trials, though, his Olympic dream was nearly shattered when he was hit in the leg by a stray bullet. He had been at a restaurant opening with friends when it occured last October. “It was very scary,” he says. “I thought my career was over.”

Fortunately for Ann, the bullet hit muscle. “Shout out to taekwondo for helping me build all that muscle,” Ann says. Doctors were able to remove the bullet without any permanent damage. “He was lucky he was able to recover,” Lee says.

Healthy enough to compete, Ann made it to the African qualifier in Dakar, Senegal. In the Olympics, the top two competitors from each continent are invited to compete along with five wild cards for each weight category. Ann qualified in the +80 kg (around 175 pounds) category and will now be among 128 athletes competing for gold in taekwondo.

“It’s an honor to be able to compete,” Ann says. “I’m excited to show what I can do.”

Lee says there’s no reason he can’t bring home a medal. “Anyone there at that level has a shot,” he says.

His advice for Ann is to remember what got him to the Olympics. “He’s got a lot of great qualities,” says Lee, citing Ann’s discipline, work ethic, humility and level-headedness. “Win or lose, we’ll be proud of him.”

For his part, Ann isn’t going to Paris to lose. “I’m definitely going looking for gold,” he says.

And when the Olympian returns home, he’s hoping to capitalize on Olympic fever as he and Lee open a taekwondo school together. “We want to grow the community,” Ann says.

The 2024 Olympics take place July 26 through August 11 in Paris. Some 10,500 athletes are expected to compete in 329 events across 32 sports.

Grandmaster Lee’s World Taekwondo Academy
6463 Sycamore Court N.; 763.315.4491
Facebook: Grandmaster Lee’s World Taekwondo Academy
Instagram: @therealwta
X: @wta4u


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