Pakistan’s female athletes rarely get opportunities to compete at international level but the country’s duo of Rabia Ashiq and Anum Bandey are looking to continue the lineage of women’s participation in the Olympics.
In a country known for its conservative values which frowns upon women taking part in field events it was only in 1996 that the government of then-prime minister Benazir Bhutto — Pakistan’s only female premier — defied tradition to send Shabana Akhtar as the first woman athlete from Pakistan to go to the Olympics.
Although the long jumper lagged well behind in the competition, she was a pioneer.
Since then, Shazia Hidayat competed in the 1,500 metres in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, followed by Sumeria Zahoor in the same event at Athens 2004 and Sadaf Siddiqui in the 100 metres in Beijing four years ago — all were mere also-rans.
Rabia knows she will suffer the same fate, but she is undaunted and has set her own goals.“I want to run 2:02.00 at the Olympics,” said Rabia, hoping to smash the national record of 2:08.04 set by her coach Bushra Parveen in 2006, but still nearly 10 seconds off the world record.
“I want to make a difference in the record books — if not at the international level, then at least at the national level.”
To conform with Muslim beliefs about modesty, she competes wearing leggings, but in Pakistan, male spectators are barred from watching female sports and she was nervous about having the eyes of the world on her in London.
To get over this, she trained with men — an idea put forward by her coach.
“Now my biggest dream is close to being realised and while I’m excited, the feeling is accompanied by tension and anxiety,” she said.
“I’ll enjoy my time in London and watch all the track and field events in order to learn from the best, and memories of my friends will be with me.”
Both Rabia and Anum qualified as wildcards.
And Anum will look to improve on the performance of her predecessor Kiran Khan, who represented Pakistan at the Games in Beijing in 2008.
She will be the third Pakistani female swimmer to make waves at the Games after Kiran and Rubab Raza, who made Olympic history for Pakistan by becoming the country’s first female Olympic swimmer at Athens in 2004.