HANDMADE DIPLOMACY

Associated Press
Uzbekistan's Natalya Mamatova holds a handmade doll before presenting it to France's Anne-Caroline Graffe prior to their match in women's plus 67-kg taekwondo competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
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Uzbekistan's Natalya Mamatova holds a handmade doll before presenting it to France's Anne-Caroline Graffe …

If there were an Olympic medal for hospitality, the Uzbekistan taekwondo team might just get it. Taekwondo matches usually start off with competitors bowing to one another as a sign of respect. At the London Games, Uzbek fighters have added their own twist: presenting each of their rivals with a hand-made Uzbek doll before trying to kick them in the head.

"It's a souvenir of my country so that they will remember this moment," says Akmal Irgashev, fighting in the men's heavyweight division. He presented the doll Saturday morning to Mali's Daba Modibo Keita, a two-time world champion.

Irgashev's teammate, Natalya Mamatova, offered a similar doll — a little mustachioed man in traditional dress — to top-seeded Anne Caroline Graffe in the women's 67-kilogram plus category. Irgashev said they've received T-shirts in return from European athletes, but never anything hand-made.

Still, the dolls weren't enough to disarm their opponents; both Irgashev and Mamatova lost in the first round Saturday morning.

— Maria Cheng — Twitter http://twitter.com/mylcheng

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