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Monday, July 15, 2024

Pakistan’s first Olympic markswoman guns for historic medal

At the Paris Games starting on July 26, Talat will compete in the 10m air pistol and 25m pistol events, going for glory abroad and defying stereotypes back home.

Slowing her breath and focusing on a bullseye in her pistol’s sights, Kishmala Talat is aiming to become the first woman from Pakistan to win an Olympic medal.

At the Paris Games starting on July 26, Talat will compete in the 10m air pistol and 25m pistol events, going for glory abroad and defying stereotypes back home.

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Pakistan’s medal prospects are undercut by modesty codes which dissuade women from participating in sport.

The 21-year-old Talat, who comes from a military family, is the first Pakistani woman to qualify for Olympic shooting.

“In Pakistan there’s a prevalent taboo that dictates girls should stay at home, do girly things, and play with dolls, while boys are to play with guns,” she said.

“I see no one as competition. I compete with myself,” she told AFP at a target range in the eastern city of Jhelum.

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– ‘Wanted to do more’ –

Talat has won dozens of medals at national level and four internationally, including Pakistan’s first shooting medal ever, a bronze, at the Asian Games last year.

Pakistan have only ever won 10 Olympic medals — all by men — and none since the 1992 Games.

Talat, who has just completed her university degree in communications, realistically faces an uphill task to get on the podium in Paris.

She has a global ranking of 37th in the 10m event and is 41st in the 25m, according to the International Shooting Sport Federation.

“I longed for recognition. I wanted to do more,” she said.

“I wanted that whenever shooting is discussed, or ‘Kishmala’ is mentioned, it would be associated with someone who did something great for Pakistan.”

Hoping to defy the odds, she spends 10 hours a day training — one hour of physical exercise and then four hours each on the 10m and 25m ranges.

The last hour in the evening is spent meditating, concentrating on the flickering flame of a candle in an attempt to hone the zen needed to find her target.

“I am dedicated to giving my best performance to let Pakistan’s name shine,” said Talat.

She takes her shots with her spare hand stuffed in her pocket and one eye covered by custom-fit glasses, her face frozen in expressionless concentration.

The sport of target shooting is not a common pursuit in Pakistan.

Cricket is by far the most popular pastime, but all sports suffer from chronic underfunding.

However, guns are omnipresent in Pakistan.

Swiss weapons research group the Small Arms Survey estimated in 2017 that there were nearly 44 million legal or illicit guns held by civilians in Pakistan.

The figure is the fourth highest globally and means there are 22 weapons per every hundred citizens in the nation of more than 240 million.

 

– ‘City of Martyrs’ –

 

Talat’s talent has been nurtured by Pakistan’s military, the sixth-largest in the world with a vast budget allowing it to operate ski resorts, polo grounds and mountaineering academies.

Talat is trained by officers and a foreign coach at a military facility in Jhelum, known as “City of Martyrs” for its strong ties to the armed forces.

She hails from the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where the armed forces are headquartered.

Her 53-year-old mother, Samina Yaqoob, serves as a major in the military’s nursing service and proudly displays her daughter’s many medals in the family living room.

Yaqoob once dreamed of competing herself.

“I got married and got busy with that life, but it makes me happy when I see my daughter move forward with my dream,” she said.

“Girls should step forward, observe, work diligently and their parents should support them,” the mother said.

“She believes she can do anything. That’s just who she is.”