A journey up the slopes

April 17, 2010

KARACHI: His story is of an exception where a young Mohammad Abbas from Naltar could only afford to stare intently at the army skiers in his village. Later, he was let down by his own country but he still did what no other Pakistani had ever done – represent the nation in the Winter Olympics.

The boy from Gilgit

Coming from a family living below the poverty line, Abbas’ father gave him the closest thing to a pair of skis they could afford – two planks of wood attached by strips of wool. But from that point onwards, it was a case of the adamant individual with one thing on his mind. He observed and imitated the skiers who used to undertake their winter survival training and was aptly rewarded as they gifted him, and another lucky few, skis.

Abbas toils and lumbers

He trained intensively under the supervision of Zahid Farooq and four years later, Abbas made his debut in the 5th Asian Children Championship. He did not have any proper equipment, only his confidence. He was noticed by a French skier with words that Abbas still remembers: “You just cannot lose this talent.” Fast-forward to 2007 and the Ski Federation of Pakistan set its eyes on the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

The training was increased and eight skiers were picked from Naltar and sent to Austria for training followed by events in Iran, Lebanon and Turkey. And as Abbas qualified for the Winter Olympics – and was chosen over Mohammad Iqbal who qualified but missed out on participation due to quota restriction – the nation realised the talent.

The enigma

Abbas was the only athlete who qualified living in his country compared to other participants from the developing nations. “The other athletes had vast opportunities living in more developed countries,” said Farooq. “Also, he could only train for eight weeks before the tournament and that is nothing at the international level.” Snubbed by Pakistan “We only got noticed after the Canadian High Commission hosted a reception in our honour. Before that, no one cared,” added Farooq.

Undeterred by that, Abbas took part in the World Military Championship in Italy where he finished 29th in the giant slalom event and 16th in the slalom event. His next target is the South Asian Winter games in India.

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