Qatar sending first female athletes to 2012 Olympics

    8:21 AM, May 3, 2012   |    comments
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    UNDATED (CNN) -- Qatar is sending female athletes to the Olympic Games this summer, for the first time ever.

    It's early in the day, but air-rifle shooter 19-year-old Bahiya Al-Hamad is on her way to a perfect game. But this young Qatari already has a bigger target in her sights. She says, "My dream when it comes to shooting is to be the Olympic or world champion."

    She may actually get that chance. At a shooting club outside Qatar's capital, Doha, Al-Hamad is training for the 2012 Olympics. It will be her first major international competition.

    But Al-Hamad's trip to London this summer will make history for a different reason. Qatar has never sent female athletes to the Olympics.

    Al-Hamad and two others, a swimmer and a sprinter, will be the nation's first female Olympians. It's the chance of a lifetime, she says. Al-Hamad says, "Every athlete's dream to reach the Olympics. I wanted to scream [when I found out I made it. I really loved it. I was optimistic but never expected to reach the Olympics."

    It's an honor she doesn't take lightly. Women in this conservative, Persian Gulf nation enjoy many freedoms. They can vote, run for political office, and even drive cars, unlike their neighbors in Saudi Arabia. Still, some discrimination remains. Al-Hamad says, "I feel men don't realize the idea yet, but it depends some of them are okay with it some are not. They say you're a girl and you shoot?"

    Here at the range, though, Al-Hamad's male colleagues have nothing but respect. The Qatari men's shooting team, after all, did not qualify for the games. Gulf and Arab champion Ali Rashid al-Mohannadi says, "I think yeah, women now are better than us. I'm very happy, because she's a talented shooter. I'm very happy for her, and I hope she does well in the Olympic games."

    But doing well means training and lots of it. Because there's little time to waste.

    Al-Hamad practices with her Uzbeki coach for two hours a day, five days a week. It's a grueling schedule for a college student. But she'll be up against some of the best 10-meter rifle shooters in the world. Ivan Shahov says, "We participated in junior Olympic Games in Singapore two years back. But her result was not good. But I hope with this Olympic Games we have a chance."

    She almost didn't get the chance. Al-Hamad has won several regional competitions, but she missed out on qualifying for London by half a point.

    Her Olympics invite came in the form of a wild-card draw. No matter, Al-Hamad sees the games as an opportunity. She says, "It's an accomplishment for every Qatari woman. I hope I can live up to their expectation."

    Al-Hamad still doesn't know what she'll do if she wins a gold. She's just hoping to score a few more points for women in the region.

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