National skiers Mohammad Karim and his nephew Syed Human recently featured in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Due to highly competitive environment, winning a medal or reaching close to that was never expected from them. Experienced Karim fell a bit short and must not be satisfied as he could not complete the course in slalom event. But it was so tough a race that around fifty percent of the athletes could not complete it.
Before that, however, Karim finished at 72nd spot out of 110 contestants in the giant slalom — a reasonable performance. This was the second time that Karim took part in Winter Games. He had featured in the 2014 Sochi Games.
Human, on the other hand, made his Olympic debut and wrapped up his 15 kilometres cross-country race at the 108th spot out of 119 participants.
They may not have impressed other Pakistanis but they are heroes for the people of Gilgit. They are the idols of the youngsters in the scenic valley Naltar which is brimming with skiing talent.
This was the third time that Pakistan featured in Winter Olympics. Mohammad Abbas had made debut for Pakistan when he participated in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.
It was the first time that two national skiers qualified for the Winter Games — in three disciplines.
Those who know skiing may understand that Pakistan needs hard work for a long time to win medals in Olympics.
Due to lack of proper infrastructure and snow, our athletes are only able to train for a short period in a year. Mere physical training may give a skier strength but for developing techniques they need regular top-quality training.
They need the assistance of quality foreign coaches. And sending skiers for foreign training for six to seven months is a resource-intensive exercise and is not possible. A foreign coach is invited for hardly one month and I don’t think that can help much.
We have spoken to the secretary of Ski Federation of Pakistan (SFP) Air Commodore Shahid Nadeem about different issues. Some of the excerpts of his interview with ‘The News on Sunday’ (TNS) are given below.
TNS: Are you satisfied with Pakistan’s performance in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics?
Shahid: I am more than satisfied with the performance of our skiers. It was for the first time that Pakistan featured in three different disciplines. Pakistan had been participating in only giant slalom. Karim was more confident and displayed fine skills in giant slalom. Syed Human was also very confident while running for 15 kilometres skating event in cross country.
TNS: How can Pakistan turn into a medal-winning nation in Winter Games?
Shahid: Pakistan is a non-ski nation. At the moment our aim is to take the national flag to Winter Olympics in order to boost our soft image. Ski federation under the patronage of PAF has introduced some new events, including ice skating and ice hockey. We hope to get some good results and even medals in short track ice skating and cross country in future if we hire some good coaches for training our athletes in these two.
TNS: Due to lack of snow, Pakistan mostly relies on resource-intensive foreign training. How will you cope with such challenges?
Shahid: SFP has been sending its athletes for training abroad. However, in the recent past, the federation with the assistance of PAF has developed ski infrastructure in Pakistan. Owing to this development, Pakistan has been organising international ski races for the last three consecutive years. A number of athletes from various countries are taking part in these races. The purpose of holding these races in Pakistan is to portray a soft image of the country and to give opportunity to our skiers to compete at home against foreign athletes. Moreover, to overcome the snow problem, the federation is buying four snow guns to make artificial snow during the ski season. A second ski lift is being added to Naltar ski resort to accommodate more skiers and to act as standby to the main chairlift. Additionally, the PAF in collaboration with the government is developing Naltar as a model valley. The master plan for Naltar development is under process and after its implementation Naltar will have more ski areas. The federation with the help of PAF is also planning to develop a summer ski slope in Naltar. Then ski will be possible in summer also. After these additions, we will be calling foreign athletes for training in Pakistan instead of sending our athletes abroad.
PAF is looking after skiing and squash. The Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman as patron of both federations has always extended full support for the promotion of winter sports and squash in the country. For the promotion of winter sports, PAF will be adding indoor ski slopes in various parts of the country to make this sport accessible to general public. The first indoor ski slope is being manufactured in Holland and will be installed at PAF Museum Faisal by July this year.
Other such slopes will be added in Lahore and Islamabad shortly.
Moreover, PAF has been running Shah Khan Ski School at Naltar since 1996. A ski school has been established at Rattu, Gilgit, and another ski school is being established at Malam Jabba ski resort in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In the current ski season, PAF will help start ice-skating at Khalti lake, situated in the Tehsil Gupis of Ghizer District, and at Borith lake near Ghulkin, Hunza. There are many other lakes in the area which get frozen during winter and can be developed for ice-skating and ice-hockey. This will also attract local tourists during winter. Outdoor ice-skating rinks were also added to Naltar and Skardu valleys.
From next season, outdoor ice rinks will be established in AJK, Chitral and Swat valleys to promote ice skating and ice hockey. SFP with the support of PAF is providing free ice-skating shoes, protective gear and formal training to the kids from the area.
TNS: Most of the talent comes from Naltar. What are the other areas contributing to the sector?
Shahid: Malam Jabba and Rattu also have alpine ski facilities (ski lifts). Two new ski schools are added to help and train the kids from these areas. Moreover, this ski season kids from Khalti and Burit lakes and Chitral valley were also given training in Naltar for alpine, skating and cross-country. Azad Jammu and Kashmir was supposed to send a team but somehow they could not send their boys. A ski slope will be developed from next ski season in Pir Chanasi top.
Similarly, cross country and skating grounds are being developed at Naltar, Swat, Chitral, Skardu and AJK.
TNS: Your plans for next Winter Games?
Shahid: SFP plans to train athletes for 2022 Olympic in alpine, cross country and ice skating. We intend to participate in at least 12 disciplines in 2022.
TNS: How many qualified coaches have you produced?
Shahid: We are preparing trainers for training fresh ski talent. A training course was conducted recently in Naltar under the supervision of foreign coaches in alpine and cross country disciplines. As many as 16 athletes from alpine and eight from cross country participated in the course. During the Winter Games in South Korea, a number of coaches showed interest in helping us train the trainers for various disciplines. We will have the proposals shortly.