Portrait: Bahiya proud to represent Qatar at Olympics

By Laura Walden
AJU GEORGE CHRIS / Doha Stadium Plus
Bahiya Mansour Al Hamad will represent Qatar at London 2012 / Doha Stadium Plus
Bahiya Mansour Al Hamad will represent Qatar at London 2012 / Doha Stadium Plus
June 20 - A host of emotions will be going on in Bahiya Mansour Al Hamad’s heart as she steps on to the shooting range, at the Royal Artillery Barracks, for her 10M air rifle event at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
No doubt, she would be immensely proud of making history as one of the first Qatari women to take part in the Olympics.
The thrill and excitement at the prospect of matching her wits with big guns in the sport would be unmatched. She would do well not to be tense though, at least in the beginning, because performing on the biggest possible stage can make the very best feel jittery.
Not that she would be short of confidence, for that is one trait which the 19-year-old has in abundance. She will also have her paternal grandmother, watching from the stands, to provide a quite reassurance, if she needs any.
Sitting at a training hall at the Qatar Shooting and Archery Association (QSAA) in Losail, Bahiya opened up.
Her father and grandmother, whom she is named after, were the ones who had played key roles in her taking up the sport.
“My father was an amateur football player who also loved hunting and he was the first to suggest I get involved in sports activities,” said Bahiya.
“I joined a recreational handball team at the age of 15. Although I liked it, I wanted to try an individual sport and moved out within a month. My father and grandmother then suggested I try shooting,” she said.
It was a wise move, for she had a good company there.
“Two of my cousins — Amna (10M air rifle) and Wasmiya Al Abdullah (shot gun) — were already members of the national team. They helped me get started. I chose rifle over shot gun as it was easier to handle. It suited me just fine. I started getting good results within two years and that justified my decision,” she smiled.
And now, after four years, it proves the perfect one, as Bahiya finds herself competing in 10M air rifle as well as 50M three-position in London, something she did not even dream about when she took up the sport.
Her rise was swift and steady. The first major result came soon, a fiver, all gold medals, at the ’09 Arab Junior Championships in Morocco.
That performance won her the Qatar Olympic Committee’s Best Female Athlete of the Year award. She then made history by becoming the first girl from the country to qualify for the ’10 Singapore Youth Olympics, where she was the flag-bearer at the Opening Ceremony.
Bahiya felt the Singapore experience would stand her in good stead.
“It was my first Olympic outing, albeit it was a youth event. The result wasn’t too good, but it gave me a feel of competition at the highest level. I interacted with fellow shooters from other nations and learned from them. London will be much tougher, but I feel I’m prepared. Singapore has helped me a lot,” she said.
Bahiya is going to London on the back of an outstanding season. The highlight was three gold and two silver medals at the Doha Arab Games last December.
Even though she finished sixth at the Asian qualification event in Doha in January, the QSAA decided to send her to London as Qatar’s official entry to the Games instead of 50M air pistol winner Oleg Engachev.
It was obvious that the association wanted a female athlete in the sport. And the promise that she had shown was too apparent to be ignored.
Besides Bahiya, two other girls — sprinter Noor Al Malki and swimmer Nada Mohammad Wafa Arakji — will represent Qatar at the Games, also as wild cards.
Asked how she would spend her free time in London, where she had not been before, pat came the reply.
“I’ll watch Noor and Nada in action. I’ll also move around the Athletes’ Village, interacting with competitors from different countries. Being one of Qatar’s first women Olympians, I’ll surely be under media glare. I’ll try to do my best,” she said.
Bahiya, who wishes to pursue higher studies in business administration at the Qatar Foundation, said she would encourage her nine-year-old sister Haya to follow in her footsteps.
“I’ve two brothers and a sister. Suheim, 23, and Abdullah, 22, are older than me while Haya is the youngest. She has accompanied me to Losail during my training sessions on several occasions. She has taken a liking to the sport. Once she turns 14, she’ll be able to join the team as well. I’ll help her understand the nuances of the sport, which is very woman-friendly,” she said.
Irrespective of the result in London, Bahiya’s mere presence at the shooting range will be a big boost for women’s sports in the Gulf region. History books will record her name as a girl who dared to dream.