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Fighting spirit

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In taekwondo, a millennia-old Korean martial art, "indomitable spirit" is considered one of the five tenets, alongside courtesy, integrity, perseverance and self-control.

U.S. Olympic team candidate Sanaz Shahbazi of Colorado Springs has demonstrated this spirit over the past year. Despite torn ligaments in her right knee, she's won key matches, including a bruising sudden-death overtime win last weekend at the Olympic Training Center.

"Sanaz is an extraordinary athlete," says her coach, Ramy Latchinian. "She always finds a way to win."

Shahbazi, a 24-year-old native of Tehran, Iran, began studying taekwondo at age 6. At that time, she was inspired by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

When she didn't make the cut for the U.S. Olympic team in 2004, she fought for a spot on the Iranian team and almost qualified. Despite her February 2005 knee injury -- debilitating in a martial art that places emphasis on kicks and jumps -- she has her eyes on the 2008 Summer Games.

Shahbazi's father, Ahmad, was a world champion wrestler. He made the 1968 Iranian Olympic team, but was injured a few days before competition. Shahbazi says he was tough on her while she trained as a young girl, but they came to share the same Olympic dreams.

Still, even without her father's prodding, Shahbazi demonstrates a competitive spirit.

"If we go to Old Chicago, I'll say, 'Let's play pool,' and I won't stop until I beat you," she says.

-- Dan Wilcock

Photo by Bruce Elliott

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