Some 45 countries competed at the recent Asian Games hosted by the Chinese city of Hangzhou. The Pakistani contingent comprised 190 athletes and 72 officials and we returned with just three medals — one silver and two bronze.
That is how the fourth most populous country on the continent finished 31st on the medals table. Even impoverished and troubled countries such as Afghanistan and Myanmar were ahead of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s silver medal was won in the team event of squash. Nothing to boast about there, given Pakistan’s great legacy in the game. Pakistan was also the favourite for the team title. One of the bronze medals came in kabaddi. Pakistan has always been a medallist in this sport at the Asiad. It is customary for both the losing semi-finalists to be awarded bronze medals. India thrashed Pakistan 61-14 in the semi-final.
The other bronze was garnered by shooter Kishmala Talat in the 10m air pistol women’s event, the only one among 190 Pakistani competitors who can rightly take pride in her achievement.
It was not only the sole individual medal won by Pakistan at these Asian Games, but also the first shooting medal (men or women) for the country in the history of Asiads. Kishmala is only the second Pakistani woman to win an individual medal at the Asian Games.
Twenty-one-year-old Kishmala Talat bagged the only individual medal for Pakistan at this year’s Asian Games. She tells Eos about her journey towards becoming an ace markswoman…
It could have been two medals for her but Kishmala and Gulfam Joseph lost the bronze medal competition of the 10m air pistol mixed team event by just two points.
Currently, a student pursuing a Bachelor’s in Mass Communications at the National University of Modern Languages (NUML) in Islamabad, how did Kishmala get to where she has?
“Both my parents served in the army,” she tells Eos. “My mother is still in uniform. That meant we moved around the country. My mother has always loved sports. I played a variety of sports such as table tennis, badminton, cricket and basketball.
“In 2015, we were stationed in Jhelum, where Pakistan’s best shooting facility, the Army Marksmanship Unit, is located. I was introduced to the fascinating world of shooting. I practised shooting as a hobby and was able to do very well. The international shooters also practised there, along with their coaches. I was told that with the scores I had been getting, I could do quite well in the competitions.”
Kishmala proved them right in her very first outing.
“The same year , I embarked on my competitive journey at the 4th National Youth and Junior Championships. In my debut competition, I clinched the individual bronze medal,” she says, with obvious pride.
Her performance graph went upwards from then on. In the same event the following year, 2016, she took silver, and then clinched gold in 2017 and 2018 (when she also created a new national junior record).
“Though still a junior, I decided to compete in the senior’s category,” she says.
On her senior debut at the National Shooting Championship in Karachi in 2019, the teenager startled everyone with her performance.
“It was a watershed event for me,” she says. “I not only secured the gold medal but also created four national records, in the senior, youth and team events. It was even beyond my own expectations,” she admits.
The international arena was next.
“The same year, I appeared at the South Asian Games. I consider myself lucky to have won a medal in my very first international outing, a silver in the team event,” Kishmala says. “With one exception, I have won gold at every national event since 2019,” she adds.
This kind of dominance means regular selection for international events.
“I have represented Pakistan in seven competitions abroad, mainly Asian Championships [Games] and World Championships [Cups],” she points out.
Coming to her finest achievement to date, I ask her if she was expecting a medal at the Asiad.
“The scores I achieved at the last nationals and during the pre-Asiad training gave me confidence. I knew that I could be a medal winner. Still, the moments before the final were intense. My coach and I had a heart-to-heart conversation. He reminded me of my excellent qualification round and urged me to maintain composure and go ahead fearlessly.
“Standing on the podium and watching my flag rise brought tears to my eyes. It was an indescribable feeling, a moment of immense pride and honour. The warm and heartfelt welcome I received later was overwhelming,” she smiles.
Kishmala participated in three shooting events at the 2023 Asian Games.
“In the 10m air pistol mixed team event, Gulfam Joseph was my partner. Gulfam is Pakistan’s ace shooter. At the last Olympics in Tokyo, he almost made it to the medal round. He had to be in the top eight to qualify for the medal round but finished ninth among the 36 competitors. Gulfam has already qualified for the 2024 Olympics. At the Asian Games, we came very close to winning a medal — we only went down 14-16 to the Iranian pair in the bronze medal match.”
The third event Kishmala competed at the Asiad was primarily an adjunct.
“I had taken up 25m pistol shooting only recently as my coaches recommended that it would help improve my 10m air pistol performance. At first at the nationals, I finished third. Next, at the National Games, I again surprised myself by winning the event. Hence, I was entered in this event as well at the Asian Games, where I finished 12th, narrowly missing qualification for the finals by two points.”
Kishmala acknowledges the all-round support enabling her to achieve all this.
“I must begin by acknowledging the unwavering support of my family, especially my mother. The invaluable continuous encouragement and the freedom that I have been given enables me to pursue my passion. My family has stood by me through every challenge. They have been celebrating my achievements and lifting me during my lowest moments.
“Of course, it would have been impossible without the patronage of the army, which provides me with all the facilities and excellent training at Pakistan’s best shooting arena, in Jhelum. There, I am fortunate to have excellent coaches in Qaiser Malik for the 10m event and Belarussian Vladimir Kovalenko for the 25m. Mentors in the true sense of the word, they meticulously prepare me in all aspects: technical, physical and mental.
“In shooting it is very important to remain composed, with control over one’s nerves. I am also grateful to the National Rifle Association of Pakistan as well as the Pakistan Olympic Association, for providing me with the opportunity to represent Pakistan internationally.
“Credit is also due to NUML. My university, especially the Department of Mass Communications, is incredibly supportive. They facilitate me in many ways, such as giving me compensation in attendance. They also acknowledge my successes. I have been a recipient of the university’s Higher Achiever Award.”
The next goal for the 21-year-old girl is Olympic qualification.
“Two male shooters, Gulfam Joseph and Ghulam Mustafa Bashir have already qualified. Immediately after the Asian Games, I went to Korea for the Asian Shooting Championships. It also served as an Olympic Qualifier, but I fell a little short. I have two more chances: the 2024 Asian Shooting Championships in Jakarta and the 2024 ISSF World Olympic Qualification Tournament in Rio de Janeiro. I am very hopeful,” she says.
If Kishmala Talat qualifies, she will achieve another first. No Pakistani female has ever directly ‘qualified’ for the Olympics.
Published in Dawn, EOS, November 26th, 2023