Schoolgirl set to become first Pakistani in Olympic pool
LAHORE: Thirteen-year-old Rubab Raza’s day runs in multiples of five. She prays five times a day, goes to school five hours a day and swims five hours a day as she prepares to go for gold in the Olympics 50-metre freestyle in Athens in August.
Raza already wears the crown of Pakistan’s fastest swimmer; now the dark-eyed teenager is poised to become the conservative Islamic republic’s first woman to plunge into the Olympic pool.
“Whenever I go out of home or train at the swimming pool some family members or at least my grandmother remains with me,” she told AFP at her family’s home in Lahore.
The family contingent is one concession to the strict mores surrounding women in the world’s second largest Muslim country.
In the Frontier where life is more conservative, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal government has slapped an official ban on male coaches training women athletes.
Luckily for Raza, such bans don’t exist in vibrant Lahore. Her coach is a veteran male swimmer, Munawar Luqman.
“I train daily for about two to three hours in the morning and two hours in the evening,” she said.
She trains at two pools, the era Gymkhana club and a private swimming club. The Gymkhana pool was the birthplace of her swimming prowess. “I was seven years of age when I started swimming there,” she said.
The ninth year student at Jesus and Mary Convent School has since gone on to claim 10 national medals: three in the open category and seven in her own age group.
At the last South Asia Federation games in March she picked up a bronze and two silver medals. Raza, the daughter of retired army major Syed Sibtain Raza and his army doctor wife Lubna, will also compete in the 100-metre freestyle event.
“My daughter is very disciplined and humble and I wish for her all success,” said Lubna.
Raza is one of only two women in the Pakistani squad. Sumera Zahoor will compete in the 200-metre sprint.
The track is where Pakistani women made their Olympic debut. The first woman to ever represent Pakistan in an Olympic event was Shabana Akhtar, who ran the 100-metre and 200-metre sprints at Atlanta in 1996. Another female runner Shazia Hidayat competed at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
Pakistan will field a total of 48 to 50 athletes in six events: athletics, boxing, hockey, shooting, swimming and weightlifting. afp