Know your Olympians: Mahoor carries Pakistani flag, hopes of medal in Tokyo

Badminton player first-ever to represent country in the sport at Olympics


Natasha Raheel July 23, 2021

KARACHI:

“It is a huge honour for us that our daughter will be the flag-bearer at the Olympics ceremony. I am just finishing up work so that I can get home to watch the ceremony,” Pakistan badminton player Mahoor Shahzad’s father Muhammad Shahzad, the international rower and former badminton player himself expressed his joy as the 2020 Olympic Games start.

“Not only is she the first Pakistani to play at the Olympics’ badminton event, she is also doing the honours of bearing the flag. It is a dream come true,” Shahzad tells The Express Tribune, adding that it is a big feat for any Pakistani to even find a place in the Olympics.

The 24-year-old will be bearing the Pakistan flag at the ceremony with shooter Muhammad Khalil Akhtar in Tokyo. Pakistan is fielding a squad of 10 athletes in six sports, and Mahoor was selected to be holding the flag at the prestigious ceremony.

“It is huge. These athletes are the top athletes from Pakistan, she is among them and from these athletes she is selected to be a flag-bearer. I can’t be happier than this as a father. Our daughter is selected from the best.”

Mahoor had been representing Pakistan for the last couple of years. She rose to prominence with her performances at the national level first and then striving to find the participation at the international events. She was a part of Pakistan contingent in the 2018 Asian Games and also the 2019 South Asian Games in Nepal.

She was ranked 133 in the world till June, and her father believes that her performances have made him proud, not just as a father but also as a man in Pakistan and a badminton player.

“I feel very proud of her, because no badminton player, even among men, qualified for the Olympics before. But she did. I can say that a girl did beat the boys in this,” said Shahzad, as he looks back at Mahoor being athletic from a very young age and playing with her older sister throughout her childhood.

The Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) had confirmed Mahoor’s place in the Tokyo Olympics last month and the POA chief Lt Gen (R) Syed Arif Hasan congratulated her on the achievement.

“Lt Gen (R) Syed Arif Hasan President POA felicitated Mahoor Shahzad and appreciated the POA Secretariat and Wajid Ali from Pakistan Badminton Federation for scrupulously following the process and completion of formalities. Pakistan Olympic Association has duly informed IOC and BWF of acceptance of Invitational Place,” the official statement was issued.

Mahoor will be playing against Japanese shuttler Akane Yamaguchi in her opening match on July 24 in the women’s singles event at the Games .Yamaguchi is ranked fifth in the world while Mahoor ‘s ranking is 133.

‘Always looking for competition’

Being Mahoor’s first coach, her father Shahzad believes that it will be a tough task to win the first match. “She is taking on world number five, which is not easy. I remember this happened with Jahangir Khan in squash that he lost the trials for Asian Games and later went to the event on his own and won the title. Sometimes it is a matter of timing and luck and maybe Mahoor can get into that zone too when the match takes place. But I can say that on paper, her opponent is stronger. However, Mahoor will have a lot to learn from the biggest athletes in the world when she will be seeing them every day, eating food with them, absorbing their routines and interacting with them. She will have a lot to learn from this exposure,” said Shahzad.

He recalled that as a father he would make sure that he kept his daughters active and for Mahoor he feels her physical fitness will help her in the Games.

He recalled that even as an under-13 player, she and her older sister were top athletes in badminton on national level along with under-16 age groups.

“She really took to badminton, but she was also very good at athletics. We believed at one point that she can be a runner, to a point that she and her sister would make us stop the car at some distance from the house just so that these two could run and compete. She was always looking for competition athletically and even beat me in running too when she was young,” said Shahzad about Mahoor, who studied at the Institute of Business Administration Karachi. “She competed at the national level and won bronze in running too. But she loves badminton.”

He added that with interest in sports from childhood, he enrolled Mahoor in a badminton club. She mainly practiced at DHA Creek Club and Sunset club, with local coaches.

“It was a matter of putting her in the club and academy. We have had different coaches but as a father and a coach I always kept an eye on the progress. We had had great coaches to train her. She has spent at least four to six hours each day, two to three in the morning and then in the evening to train for the Games. I feel this will pay off,” said Shahzad, hoping that the Olympics may bring better prospects for Pakistani athletes, as even competing in the Games is an achievement given that athletes abroad have better resources in place to progress in sports.

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