Pakistan’s first Olympic markswoman, Kishmala Talat, guns for historic medal

JHELLUM, Pakistan: Slowing her breath and focusing on the bullet in the scope of her gun, Kishmala Talat aims to become the first Pakistani woman 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, chasing glory abroad and defying stereotypes at home.

Pakistan’s medal prospects have been undermined by modesty codes that deter women from participating in sports.

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

“There is a prevailing taboo in Pakistan that tells girls to stay at home, do girly things and play with dolls, while boys have to play with guns,” she said.

“I don’t see anyone as competition. I compete with myself,” she told AFP at a target in the eastern city of Jhelum.

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

Pakistan has 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, is realistically facing a difficult task to get on the podium in Paris.

She is ranked 37th in the world at 10 meters and 41st at 25 meters, according to the International Shooting Sports Federation.

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

“I wanted whenever there was talk of a shooting or a mention of ‘Kishmala’, it would be associated with someone who had done something great for Pakistan.”

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

The last hour of the evening is spent in meditation, concentrating on the flickering flame of a candle in an attempt to hone the Zen needed to find one’s target.

“I am committed to give my best performance to make the name of Pakistan shine,” Talat said.

She snaps her pictures with her spare hand in her pocket and one eye covered by custom-made 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 ubiquitous in Pakistan.

The Swiss arms research group Small Arms Survey estimated in 2017 that civilians in Pakistan held nearly 44 million legal or illegal weapons.

This figure is the fourth highest in the world and means that there are 22 weapons for every hundred inhabitants in the country of more than 240 million people.

Talat’s talent was nurtured by Pakistan’s army, the sixth largest in the world with a huge budget that allows it to run ski resorts, polo fields and mountaineering academies.

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

She comes from the garrison town of Rawalpindi, where the armed forces are based.

Her 53-year-old mother, Samina Iakoob, serves as a major in the Army Nursing Service and proudly displays her daughter’s many medals in the family living room.

Jakub once dreamed of competing.

“I got married and was busy with that life, but it makes me happy to see my daughter progressing in her dream,” she said.

“Girls should come forward, observe, work hard, and parents should support them,” said the mother.

“She believes she can do anything.” That’s exactly her.”

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