akistan’s experienced skier Mohammad Karim will feature in Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics to be held from February 9-25 in South Korea.
This will be the second time in a row that the 22-year-old from the scenic valley of Naltar will showcase his talent in Olympics.
He also participated in 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. But what is unique for Karim this time is that he has qualified for the world’s most prestigious event in both slalom and giant slalom. It is also highly likely that his nephew (his sister’s son) Syed Humman would also be featuring in Pyeongchang Games in cross country as he has recorded impressive points in the qualifying races held recently in Turkey.
“He has qualified about 99 percent,” a senior official of Ski Federation of Pakistan (SFP) told me.
Humman is one year older than his uncle Karim, who is an exceptional talent. If Humman is confirmed, Pakistan will be represented by two athletes in three disciplines in the extravaganza.
Unfortunately, Karim, who serves in Pakistan Air Force (PAF) as a non-commissioned officer, had to cut short his stay in Turkey where he had to train till January 10 due to death of his mother. It was indeed a great loss for the intelligent athlete at a stage when he is about to hoist Pakistan’s flag in South Korea.
“It’s a huge shock as my mother always backed me and was praying for me. It is indeed an irreparable loss. One cannot do anything as it is in the hands of God. But I assure you that I am fully focused on my job and will put in my best in Olympics,” Karim told ‘The News on Sunday’ (TNS) in an interview from Gilgit.
“I cannot say anything about medal but I feel I am in great form. It was a hard time when I first featured in Winter Games in 2014. There were problems everywhere. There was no equipment, physical fitness and foreign training and it was not easy but this time the situation is much better. The SFP has backed me a lot and I am very thankful to it,” Karim said.
“Since 2015 I have got multiple training opportunities both in Europe and Pakistan. It’s a very tough sport. You need to be both mentally and physically tough,” Karim said.
Karim is familiar with the slope on which he will play in South Korea. “I have the experience of playing on that slope as I featured in the 24th Asian Junior Championship there. And my plan is that I will reach South Korea on February 6 and will compete in giant slalom on February 18 and slalom on February 20. So I will have enough time before my appearance and will practise well,” Karim said.
He said that unfortunately there is no slope in Pakistan. “We have no slope and the weather here has also changed very much. And that is why there is training issue. No doubt we have glaciers but we don’t have access to them as you need rout and other facilities like hotel and we don’t have that unlike Europe which has five-star hotels near glaciers and so the athletes there always flourish,” Karim said.
Pyeongchang 2018 may be the last Olympics for Karim as he has other plans after that. “My great desire is to do a coaching course from Austria after the Winter Games and to prepare players for future national duty. I cannot see talented athletes being wasted. You see we don’t have a coach and this is the biggest hurdle. I want to contribute in this area. But you know I am hardly 22-year-old and can still serve the country in international events. If the SFP wants me to continue playing I will be there. But what I personally feel is that I should go for coaching,” Karim revealed.
Although Karim may not have attracted the rest of the nation’s attention despite his great contribution in the field of skiing, for people of his valley he is a hero. “Polo and skiing are the two sports which people of our area love. I have always been respected there. You can still see my posters in my college in Gilgit which had been installed when it was announced that I would represent Pakistan in 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. And the school where I studied till Matric I am considered as a hero,” he said.
Karim said that Naltar is brimming with skiing talent and that 25 to 30 athletes of the valley can compete in international events. Around 200 boys play the game.
Karim has four brothers, three of whom are also associated with skiing. His nephew Humman belongs to Army.
It is pertinent to mention here that Mohammad Abbas was the first skier who represented Pakistan in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.
As Karim has mentioned the athletes don’t have access to the glaciers in Naltar. Pakistan’s government and PAF, which is patronising skiing, should take steps to resolve such issues.