It’s difficult to be a top sportsman in this fiercely competitive age, more so if one happens to be somebody like Nasser Saleh al-Attiyah.
It’s even more difficult to maintain a pleasing disposition all the time, address everyone as “brother”, and go about one’s business as if it’s the most natural thing that comes to you.
But then we are not speaking of a run-of-the-mill champion here – in fact, even a casual glance at his CV would be enough to convince anybody that he is one of the most extraordinary sportsmen the world has ever seen.
In an era where achieving excellence in one sport can turn out to be an all-consuming passion, the Qatari has blazed a rare trail in two – both extremely challenging pursuits, that demand one’s total focus and commitment.
How many, for example, have won the gruelling Dakar Rally, not once, but twice, and can also boast a shooting medal at the Olympics?
We have not even begun talking about his exploits in Asia yet – suffice to say that he is a 13-times Middle East Rally champion, besides being a skeet team gold winner and an individual silver and bronze medallist at the Asian Games.
“I was just looking back in history a few days ago when I realised this would be my seventh Asian Games. I just can’t believe it. It’s amazing,” al-Attiyah told Gulf Times from Palembang, where the shooting competitions at the 18th Asian Games are being held.
Al-Attiyah, who is 47 now, first got a taste of the Asian Games at Hiroshima in 1994, which was incidentally his first international competition in shooting.
“I was very young then. I still remember I was in awe of all the great sportsmen and women who had gathered there,” he reminisced.
Although he didn’t win a medal in Hiroshima Asian Games, he made amends at the Asian Championships in 1995 where he took the silver.
Close to a quarter century after that, the Qatari shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, such is his motivation that the thought of quitting one sport to fully concentrate on the other doesn’t even cross his mind.
“I enjoy what I do. I not only enjoy taking part in the big competitions but also the whole process it involves.”
Doing the same fitness routine over and over again can be boring, but al-Attiyah begs to differ.
“I like training and keeping myself fit – I enjoy the hard work. Age has nothing to do with it. It’s all about staying motivated, for your country, for your flag. Putting Qatar ahead of everything plays a big role in what I do.”
He is conscious of the fact that he is considered a role model by young sportsmen and women in Qatar and also in the larger Arab world, saying he always makes it a point to motivate them whenever he gets a chance.
“It’s a great honour for me that youngsters look up to me. Whenever I get chance, I try to speak to them and motivate them. I tell them that representing one’s country is the greatest honour one can have.
“In fact, I met the Qatari bowlers in Indonesia who had won the World Youth Championships boys’ title in the USA recently. They asked me how long will I keep going, and I told them I will keep going till I finish!”
Al-Attiyah will be aiming for his first individual gold medal at the Asian Games, after missing the chance twice previously, having had to settle for a silver and bronze.
“My preparations have been perfect this time. Along with my brother, Rashid, we had an excellent training camp in Italy. We are in very good shape and we will try to do our best.
“As I said before, motivation is not a problem when you are representing your country. I am thankful to HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani, the president of the Qatar Olympic Committee for all the support he has given sportsmen in Qatar.”
Al-Attiyah will be taking part in the individual skeet competition to be held on August 25 and 26.
“It’s going to be tough as some of the best shooters in the world have assembled here. But I am confident and looking forward to the challenge.”
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