Vancouver, Canada- On Tuesday February 23, 2010, Pakistan will field its very first entry into its very first Winter Olympics. While the nation has won three gold, three silver and four bronze medals in its history at the Olympics since becoming a nation in 1947, this is the first time Pakistan will field an athlete for the Vancouver Olympics in Canada. The sole member of Pakistan’s Winter Olympics team is a 24 year old Pakistani skier by the name of Mohammad. He was the first Pakistani to qualify for a Winter Olympic event and will participate in the Alpine Skiing in the Giant Slalom category.
Mohammad Abbas hails from Pakistan’s northern Nalthar valley near Gilgit, Balistan and the now troubled beautiful Swat valley of Pakistan. For years very popular with the British and since with affluent Pakistanis, this picturesque and scenic area of Pakistan is nestled at the foothills of the Himalayas and receives a good amount of snow fall in the winter months. There are not many ski hills in hot weather Pakistan, but there is one in the Nalthar valley where Abbas grew up as one of the local boys. He grew up in a small village near the ski slopes.
When the idea of creating a ski team first developed, all the candidates were local children. Unfortunately out of the original 9 hopefuls, only Abbas qualified for the Vancouver games. “I started skating in 1995 using homemade wooden skates, which is how all the children in our village used to learn. We didn’t have ski boots so we tied our feet to the skis with traditional woolen foot bindings. It was pretty precarious so we had to get our balance right,” he said.
For Abbas, it has been a long and at times arduous 15 year journey since 1995 when he first took interest in skiing at the age of 9 in his village near the ski slopes of Pakistan’s Nalthar valley watching Pakistani and foreign tourists skiing spurned young Abbas and many of his cousins to take up the sport. In a cricket mad country, not very many people pick up skiing. Very few people in Pakistan can afford ski equipment and also only a very small portion of the country gets snow, so it is a surprise that the nation is even fielding an athlete at the Winter Olympics.
Sitting in the Olympics athletes village in Vancouver, Abbas admits that he does not have the camaraderie or the support of Olympic teammates that most other nations participants share, and he was concerned that he may feel a bit lonely representing his country by himself at such a big stage. But the boy from Nalthar valley was greeted with great enthusiasm and support by the rather large Pakistani Canadian community of British Columbia. “The support from my fellow countrymen has really helped me deal with the lack of teammates,” said Abbas.
Abbas said that he “achieved his ambition through hard work” and hopes he has inspired other Pakistani athletes to take up the challenge and aim for future Winter Olympic games. He also realized that his chances of bringing home Pakistan’s first Winter Olympic gold are very small but he said he wants to finish the race in an “honorable manner and make his country proud.”
Although not expected to medal, he is considered the fastest of the first time entrants to compete in the Giant Slalom that is scheduled to take place at Tuesday. It is perhaps an accomplishment to have finally fielded a Winter Olympics team, but for Pakistan it is also a moral victory to have a young man represent the country from the same troubled yet beautiful valley that has been now for months fighting for its life from Taliban insurgents. He represents not just Pakistan’s Olympic hopes, but the spirit of the people of the area to make the best of their situation and rise above the adversity of their daily struggles in a very beautiful part of the world that has also long been known as the “Switzerland of Pakistan.”
By Manzer Munir for www.PakistanisforPeace.com