“Mental toughness will be the key. Our shooters are technically and physically at their best and have all that it takes to win a medal, but it is the mind that needs to win,” the National Rifle Association of Pakistan (NRAP) secretary Razi Ahmed Khan says before recognising the fact that the three shooters directly qualifying for the Olympics is a huge feat as this had never happened before.
“We have been progressively making a way. In the 2016 edition we had one shooter that qualified on quota place winning it through the points, while this time we have three, so here is the progress,” said Khan, who said that the shooters trained under his supervision in Karachi.
The build-up to the Olympics has been broodingly slow but worth the effort, according to the NRAP Vice-President Javaid Shamshad Lodhi, who is in Tokyo with the Pakistan Olympics Association delegation. He wrote from Japan that the athletes are ready to take the challenge. “Shooters are all healthy and in good spirits. [They] had their first visit to the shooting range and did a little bit of training. InshaAllah, we are hopeful that they’ll try to do their best.”
The sequence of qualifications began with Muhammad Khalil Akhtar qualifying for the Olympics in September 2019, in Rio, at the World Cup to bag the prestigious spot at the Tokyo Olympics in 25m Rapid Fire Pistol event. Akhtar’sfeat was followed by Pakistan’s top shooter Ghulam Mustafa Bashir, as he made his way to the second Olympics in his career with a performance in November 2019 at the 14th Asian Championship in Doha. The biggest surprise came in the form of a youngster from Jhelum, Gulfam Joseph, who booked his place for Olympics quota place by the end of the championships too, making it a historic trio.
Joseph will be featuring in the Olympics men’s 10m air pistol event.
The minimum qualification score for shooters was 563 in 10m air pistol and 560 in 25m Rapid Fire Pistol men’s event.
“The shooters have trained hard and their best especially towards the end of their training for the last two months,” said Khan. “I have loosely seen Bashir, pushing his training and making sure he hits his best of 592.6 out of 600 in the training. He has broken national records in the 25m rapid fire pistol event. He is a Navy sportsman, and he is dedicated to his dream. In fact, he is our top shooter, but he needs to stay mentally strong for the medal to come to Pakistan.”
Bashir was the flag-bearer for Pakistan at the 2016 Olympics, whereas his best came at the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup in Croatia where he bagged the 12th place in June.
Bashir had previously represented Pakistan at the Asian Games as well in 2014 and 2018, whereas six World Cup participations are attached to his name so far, along with one Asian Championships entry that took him to 2020 Olympics. He finished fifth in the ranking at the time with a score of 581. Bashir is ranked 25th in the world according to the latest ISSF rankings.
Meanwhile Khan described Ahktar, who will be bearing Pakistan’s flag this time in the opening ceremony of the Olympics Games in Tokyo, to be a patient athlete, making his way to the Olympics with continuous effort, representing Pakistan in four World Cups and the 2018 Asian Games.
“Khalil had been another consistent shooter like Bashir. They both have been number one and number two in the national rankings because they both compete in the same category, so we have our best shooters to offer,” said Razi.
Akhtar is also a 2016 South Asian Games silver medallist. He finished sixth in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, while remaining low-key in his public profile.
In the latest outing Akhtar finished 14th in Croatia, while his career best has been the 2019 Rio World Cup performance, in which he finished sixth, beating top shooters on the way for Olympic qualification. He also achieved his career best score of 586 points at the event. His current world ranking is 24, according to the ISSF.
Meanwhile Joseph, 21, is all set for his Olympic debut too. Razi puts him as a “surprise” on the shooters list, as the youngster prepared partly in Karachi and partly in Jhelum for the Olympics.
Joseph was 19 years of age when he booked his place in the Olympics with his performance in Doha, where his score was 584. On the other hand in Croatia, his score was 58 in the 10m air pistol event.
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