To say that Pakistan is obsessed by cricket is a huge understatement and while the rest of the country will be looking forward to the forthcoming Asia Cup, one family will have its eyes glued to the TV screen to see their son take center stage at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Having learnt to ski on wooden planks on the treacherous slopes of the mountainous Gilgit-Baltistan region, Muhammad Karim – Pakistan’s sole representative at the winter games – grew up without the fancy kit and facilities of his Western counterparts, but boy did he make the most of whatever little he had.
“I was sitting at the edge of the ski slope one day, with my cousins and friends, when I decided to be one of those skiers wearing their colorful suits,” Karim said to Dawn.com. From that point on, there was no looking back.
“I started skiing at the age of four years on wooden skis made by my uncle. Our schools were closed in the winter and skiing was the only way to spend our holidays,” he told AFP in a separate interview.
“We made skis ourselves and went skiing on local slopes, then later the air force organized a competition in which we learnt more and then started this profession.”
Of course, he understands that skiing at the winter games will be no easy task. “I know it will be tough among the world’s best but I have practised hard and I will do my best to leave my mark at the highest level.”
He hopes to finish in the Top 50 in the giant slalom.
Despite the fact that his region is infested by militants waging war on the Pakistan military and the country’s citizens, Karim let nothing come between him and his dream of representing his nation.
“I trained in Japan and Austria and competed in various regional and continental events which helped me mature as a skier,” he boasts. It was this exposure which drove him to compete at an international level.
Karim will become only the second Pakistani to compete at the Winter Olympics. He follows in the footsteps of his friend Mohammad Abbas, who finished 79th in the men’s giant slalom at the 2010 games in Vancouver.
If the skier manages to put on a decent show, perhaps it will urge the Pakistan government to improve the minimal facilities and infrastructure for the sport.
In 2008, the Taliban destroyed the Swat Valley’s Malam Jabba ski resort which had been built through financial assistance from the Austrian government. Ever since, authorities, for one reason or another, have been able to do little to rebuild the country’s skiing facilities.
Although a chairlift was recently installed in Karim’s hometown, he urged the government to do more for the area.
“The roads are unpaved. If the roads are paved and more people have access to the region then this game (skiing) will flourish,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Skiing Federation of Pakistan (SFP) is already proud of their man and said his biggest achievement was to book a spot at the games.
“Our hopes are with Karim, but we aren’t really competing for medals,” SFP secretary Mussarat Ali told The Express Tribune.
“We have to be realistic, but we are hoping that Karim competes well. He should qualify in his event and complete the race.”
Let’s hope he does well at the games so that it may inspire the powers that be to make the necessary upgrades and allow youngsters to realize their dreams of skiing at the highest level.