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Pakistan's Winter Olympian misses gold, but gains glory

Publication Date : 20-02-2014


As the results from Men’s Giant Slalom were announced on Thursday at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Pakistan’s sole athlete at the event, Mohammad Karim, was 70 places behind the winner, American alpine skier Ted Ligety.

Though Karim could not finish even in the top 50, a goal he had set for himself, he did us all proud. Being at the Winter Olympics is no small feat. Karim participated in the Giant Slalom event along with 108 alpine skiers including American athlete Ligety (who won the gold) and Indian skier Himanshu Thakur, who ended a spot behind him at number 72.

The event gave Karim the much needed exposure but at the same time also highlighted the fact that natural ability needs to be backed by top class training and financial resources to make it big in this discipline.

But in a country where the sporting scene remains overshadowed by cricket, how many of us knew about a place called Sochi in Russia before the Winter Olympics? Or that there is a discipline called the "giant slalom"? Surely, the number of people can be counted on fingertips even within the sports sections of media houses.

After Sochi, before 18-year-old Karim lies at least a decade where he can hone his skills and improve his international ranking. Though the window of opportunity is there, what is not there is the financial and technical resource pool.

Karim is only the second Pakistani ever to compete at the winter Games following his friend Mohammad Abbas, who finished 79th in the men's giant slalom in the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

The professional life of the Pakistan athlete is not much different from his three Indian peers who were also at Sochi Winter Olympics. All four have been dogged by funding and official indifference in the cricket crazy nations

Karim learnt to ski using home-made wooden skis. His participation at the event happened in the backdrop of an ongoing tussle between the two Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) bodies.

Tailing Karim at Sochi closely was none other than India’s Himanshu Thakur, whose story is no less remarkable than his Pakistan peer. Thakur received proper skiing equipment barely a week before the scheduled event.

There is cross-country skier Havildar Nadeem Iqbal of the Indian Army, who hails from Jammu and Kashmir. A low ranking Indian soldier, he is the first army man to qualify for the Winter Olympics. Then there is luger Shiva Keshavan, who practiced down the roads in Minali, Himachal Pradesh on a sled he made which comprised of wheels and not blades.

While cricket has become a professional sport on both sides of the border, other sports remain neglected and the players who do manage to leave some mark on the national and international scene have done so with the benevolence of benefactors and not the sports board.

Niche sports are expensive. Take the case of alpine skiing. A basic medium range package of skiing equipment that includes poles, snow boots and skis begins at around US$1,000.

Add to it specific physical training, coach and physiotherapist fees, dietary plans made in consultation with a nutritionists and medical bills due to injuries here and there, a young athlete will end up with a monthly bill that hovers around 100,000 Pakistani rupees ($31,091) in the training phase only.

Athletics is a full time job for a person whose talents lie at an international level but has to do without endorsements benefits. It becomes a constant struggle for the individual, with each and every move marred by uncertainty.

In this backdrop, Karim's raising the Pakistan’s flag at the Winter Olympics is remarkable. He did not get a medal but he did earn his glory.


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