ASIA OLYMPIC PROJECT GOES TO TOKYO: MAHOOR SHAHZAD
Yesterday, Badminton Asia wrote a piece on Asia Olympic Project (AOP) player Soraya Aghaeihajiagha from Iran. In the article, we highlighted the challenges she has faced prior to this year’s Olympics and her willingness to not give up. The article was written as a companion piece to Badminton Asia Development’s Facebook live event held on the 11th of July, that celebrated the amazing achievement of 4 of our AOP players, as they have qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
This year, 4 talented players from 4 different countries have qualified. And they are: Thuy Linh Nguyen from Vietnam, Thet Htar Thuzar from Myanmar, Mahoor Shahzad from Pakistan, and Soraya Aghaeihajiagha from Iran. Each player will have their own article that puts focus on their story and their experiences leading up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Today, we are featuring Mahoor Shahzad in which she shares with us the difficulties she’s had in having a professional badminton career in Pakistan but also the amazing support she’s been getting at home as she plays in the Olympics.
Below is the edited transcript of the discussion with Mahoor Shahzad held on the 11th of July:
BA: Congratulations on qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games! How are you feeling? How did you find out that you were going to compete in the Tokyo Olympics? Were you at home? Can you tell us how you react--how did your family react when hearing the good news?
Mahoor: Almost 2-3 weeks back I was in my club from training, and I got a call from the secretary of the Pakistan Badminton Federation and he informed me that I was selected for the Olympics. So I was very happy and he was also so happy that he told me that he would inform my parents himself! He didn't let me inform them. He called my parents and when I got home, they were so happy and celebrated this victory.
I also feel like this is a huge accomplishment for not only me but the whole nation because I’m the first Pakistani badminton player to represent Pakistan in the Olympics, and everyone around me is so happy for this achievement.
BA: When did you start playing badminton?
Mahoor: I started at the age of 12.
BA: As an athlete, you must have always had “the Olympic dream” -- when did it start becoming something that looks like “Oh, this is actually a dream I can achieve..”?
Mahoor: When I started playing, my father made it clear that if you only play on the national level then you should leave badminton, but if you aim to achieve something on the international level for Pakistan then you should play badminton professionally. So from the very beginning, it became very clear to me that I had to perform at the international level and when I became a part of AOP in 2018 then I started thinking about qualifying for the Olympics and I started playing international tournaments.
From then I improved my world ranking and I thought it would be best to get a ranking of below 100 and to qualify for the Olympics.
BA: What are your goals and expectations in this year’s games?
Mahoor: My round is very tough, and I have a match with Yamaguchi who is seeded #4, and also with Kirsty Gilmour so it’s a very tough round, but I will try to give my best performance against them.
BA: How has the Asia Olympic Project (AOP) helped you in this journey?
Mahoor: The main problem with the developing countries is that they lack funds to help an athlete’s needs so with the help of AOP I was able to participate in international tournaments and also with AOP I got training and provided kits to play in tournaments. Apart from this, I want to thank the team as they’ve been very helpful in meetings and tournaments.
BA: What are the challenges that you’ve faced to get you where you are now?
Mahoor: My journey has been really difficult because in Pakistan we don’t have an international level academy and in the place where I live there are a limited number of coaches so we have to decide everything on our own. We have to decide our training plan and more.
I would like to give a message to all people who have a journey and an aim, to fulfill all the hurdles in their way. But we should not stop working hard, and eventually, you will succeed if you keep working hard.
BA: What’s your last-minute preparations going to be like?
Mahoor: I’m very lazy with the packing so I haven’t packed anything yet! My flight is on the 16th but first I have to travel to another city to Islamabad on the 13th, and then from there to Japan. And we also have COVID-19 tests that we must do.
BA: What do you think the Olympics is going to be like for you?
Mahoor: Because of COVID-19, there will be a lot of restrictions and we won’t be allowed to leave our rooms. We will just be allowed to be in the halls and in our rooms. I don’t even know if there will be a food area for athletes or if we will be provided food in the room. It will be tough I think.
BA: How has your Federation been?
Mahoor: My federation has been very supportive since the beginning, they’ve been very helpful in my badminton journey. The federation people are very happy, and there will be someone that will travel with me as part of a team.
BA: Do you have any last words that you would like to share?
Mahoor: I would like to say thanks to everyone who has been supportive throughout my badminton journey, especially the people who coached me and trained with me. Also Badminton Asia for the support, my federation for the support, and my department for their support as well. I would also like to request all the Pakistani people watching to kindly pray for me so that I’m able to give my best in the Olympics.
We got a glimpse into what Mahoor’s journey has been like leading up to this moment. Although it was difficult due to the lack of resources and funds, she never stopped trying and believing in herself. With the help of her family, coaches, and federation, she was able to make history and become Pakistan’s 1st ever badminton player to qualify for the Olympics.
To quote Mahoor: “To all people who have a journey and an aim, to fulfill all the hurdles in their way.” Because eventually, you will get there and succeed due to the hard work you put in. Tomorrow, Badminton Asia’s last discussion with Thuy Linh Nguyen from Vietnam will be posted. Stay tuned!