POSTED: August 22nd 2012
Dream merchant and mentor for Qatari youth
N Ganesh / Doha Stadium Plus
August 22 - All of a sudden, he felt like a lion and let his predatory instincts take over. A real pigeon may not have enthused him much during his teenage hunting days, but at 41, its clay variant suddenly appeared to him as a chunk of fresh, red meat. “I’m the lion and it belongs to me,” he said to himself. For, at stake, was an Olympic medal.
Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah still gets goosebumps when he speaks about his incredible performance in the shoot-off against Russian Valeriy Shomin, which fetched him a bronze medal at the London Games. The feeling might take a bit longer to sink in, for it is laced with lots of pride, patriotism and self-belief.
Purely personal, it solely belongs to him, but the goodness of genuine humility that runs through his words even after such a great achievement should make one fall in love with him at once.
For the world around him, Nasser is an awe-inspiring phenomenon — one who astutely balances his shooting career with rallying to produce champion stuff in both. A fighter to the core, Nasser has derived a success formula for himself while his self-made personality, fully rooted in the cultural values and sensitivities of his nation, stands out. A successful model for the region’s future generations to emulate!
“I talk less, but I work hard, keep on learning, and listen to the wise and experienced men. It’s important to steadily activate the innumerable signals in our brain with the right thoughts. I also respect my body and I work out daily to stay fit. That has kept me going,” the 41-year-old told Doha Stadium Plus.
“Also important are the support and prayers of all around you. Everyone said my hands kept shivering during the shoot-off. But believe me, I was fully concentrating and hardly noticed anything around.
“I felt really happy when I won the bronze, but the very next moment decided I would go for gold in Rio de Janeiro, four years from now. I announced it to the media and immediately got a call from HH the Heir Apparent who has a special place in my mind. He said the whole nation was proud of me and didn’t forget to remind me about the “promise” I had made about Rio. He said he would wait for that. I replied I was confident. I’m serious. It’s my ultimate goal,” he said.
Nasser’s sports journey began as a marathon runner in his boyhood days. Just like him, his father Saleh bin Nasser Al Attiyah was an army man. It was his father who aroused shooting interest in Nasser, the eldest of his eight children, while taking him along on his hunting trips to Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Kazakhstan.
“At 13, he gave me the freedom to independently use a gun. But it took me another decade to start shooting at the ranges. We heard about the launch of a new range at Losail and decided to give it a try. The Russian coach at that time charged me QR30 for the cartridges, but to his surprise I bagged 21 out of 25. He asked me to try again, but I did so only after getting my money back.
“The shooting federation was looking for some youngsters at that time. I expressed interest to join the national team at the 1995 World Championship in Egypt, but by then the team was finalised. I requested the coach to include me also in the team, but he said no. I didn’t give up.
“I organised money, went on my own and stayed with the team. I wanted to impress the coach. I helped out the seniors, sometimes even carrying their kits. All I wanted was an opportunity to show my skills. Finally, I got a chance to shoot one round during training and I did better than all the seniors. The coach went crazy. I made it to the team for the next competition and there was no looking back after that.
“At the ’95 Asian Championships in Kuala Lumpur, I finished second in skeet and booked a berth at the Atlanta Olympics. I’ve vivid memories about the four Games that followed. The bronze medal moment in London, however, is the best of my life so far,” said a smiling Nasser, who said his father was quite happy with his medal, even though he is a bit “old-fashioned” to offer him a hug in public.
Nasser began his professional shooting career a tad late, but he was into motorsport in his youthful days.
“My cousin, Mohammed Al Mannai, took me as a co-driver for the Qatar Rally at that time. I footed the bill for some tyres and petrol, believing in his promise that he would allow me to drive the last stage. But he didn’t keep his word. I got annoyed. With the support of my father, I bought a Nissan Patrol in ’89 and with Abdullah Al Marri (currently a senior journalist at Al Raya) as co-driver, I challenged Al Mannai and won five national titles in a row, starting with ’90. I had three cars, but I sold them all when I started focusing on shooting. I kept myself away from rallying till 2003,” said Nasser.
Eight years of wilderness did not even touch his talent and natural instinct for rallying, and Nasser, who returned to the sport at the insistence of Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation, capped his series of impressive showings with the Dakar Rally triumph in ’11.
Expressing hope that his bronze medal would give a fresh impetus to Qatar sports, Nasser said he was willing to take the lead role. But he finds a clear lack of dedication and perseverance in Qatari youngsters.
“We should pay attention to what comes from within ourselves. I feel the new generation of Qatari sportspersons easily gets distracted. I switch off my mobile phone while training or even during my workouts. I don’t watch television either because I want my mind and brain to remain actively in touch with my body. I do better than several youngsters during my workouts at Aspetar because they all easily give up. My brother (Abdulaziz) is a potential shooter, but he doesn’t make full use of it. He hardly comes to me for advice. I don’t know why,” said the father of two.
“We Qataris can excel in all sports, but we must respect training. And while doing that, we should give 100 per cent. Technology aids you a lot nowadays, but one should be wise in making the choices. I don’t have whims and fancies when it comes to modern-day findings. For example, the Beretta gun, which fetched me the bronze medal, has been with me for the last 10 years and I’ve made minimum changes to it,” he said.
“I’ve a few projects in mind. One is to visit the various schools in Qatar and teach them the values of sports and healthy lifestyle. Aspetar too is chalking out various plans and Senior Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Surgeon Nebojsa Popovic has asked me to join hands with the hospital. Our visionary leaders are giving everything to the country’s sportspersons. They take care of us very well. We must perform well and win more laurels at the international level.
“But it’s easier said than done. I want to have an out-and-out Qatari team for rallying, but somehow end up hiring expatriates as co-drivers, mechanics, technicians, etc. This situation must change. There has to be more passion, dedication and hard work,” said Nasser, arguably the best sportsperson the country has ever produced.
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