AP PHOTOS: A 12-year-old in Mongolia finds joy in boxing and now dreams of the Olympics

ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia — Twelve-year-old Gerelt-Od Kherlen could not contain his excitement after winning the bronze medal in the children’s national boxing championship in Mongolia.

In September, his father heard about the opening of the Mongolian Boxing Academy close to their home in Dambadarjaa, a tent-dotted district on the outskirts of the capital, Ulaanbaatar. The boy had been restless. Now his parents are relieved.

“We are happy that our son has found his passion and hobby,” said his mother, Narantsetseg Narantsogt. He had been playing chess at school but the program was discontinued, she said. When they heard about the new boxing club, “we decided to send him, because it will keep him away from playing on smartphone and watching too much TV at home.”

Mongolia is the land of legendary conqueror Genghis Khan, and contact sports are part of a warrior tradition. Mongolians have won Olympic medals in boxing and other individual sports such as wrestling and archery.

Gerelt-Od was already strong. Growing up in a district without running water, he fetched water every day for his family. He also chopped firewood, which he says helped him develop patience and resilience.

The boxing academy taught him and dozens of other children how to punch and avoid being hit. Gerelt-Od trained for more than two hours every day before going to school.

Less than a year later, he was among more than 400 boxers between the ages of 10 and 14 in the national championship. His third-place finish surprised his family.

He now wears a T-shirt with pictures of famous Mongolian boxers and dreams of becoming an Olympic champion.

His father, Kherlen Nasantogtokh, said the family wanted to give credit to academy trainers who have chosen to work with children in a modest district that, like its families, are still in transition.

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