Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)
Tuesday,12 December, 2017
Issue 1273, (3 - 9 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Student shooter

On the sidelines of the African Shooting Championships in Cairo, Heidi Elhakeem talks to one of Egypt’s biggest shooting stars

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Al-Ahram Weekly

When Merna Haitham was only seven her father took her to a shooting range. She aimed at a coin thrown 10 metres away and hit it clean. From then on, her father became aware of her talent and thought she “would be good” at shooting. But, it wasn’t until the age of 14 that Haitham started training seriously.

The practice obviously paid off. She has won the Arab championship and Africa twice each and is now gunning for next year’s Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

A person who specialises in shooting is known as a marksman. Haitham is a marksman (or woman) with Egypt’s national team. Even though it is looked at as being not a particularly feminine sport, you wouldn’t know it by the number of females who are involved. It is “dominated by women,” Haitham says.

She agrees, though, that shooting is considered an unfeminine sport. “People usually get surprised when I tell them” and their response is often “isn’t that a muscular sport for you?”

Shooting is divided into three categories: shooting with a rifle, pistol and shotgun. Haitham takes on the 10 metres air rifle and the 50 metres three positions — kneeling, prone and standing.

Targets in the shooting range aren’t the only things Haitham is aiming at. Currently a journalism third year student in AUC, she also wants a successful future and a career.

“Balancing between my studies and training is very hard,” she says. “I believe I would be better in shooting after I graduate.” She struggles with managing her time between studying and training, especially that “long hours of training are exhausting” for her.

It’s difficult for Haitham to find the time to train and attend university at the same time. “It’s hindering me. I have to be at the shooting range every day but I also have to be on campus almost every day.”

Shooters are advised to retire or quit in their mid- to late thirties, however, “there have been a few who proved that wrong,” she says.

Swedish national Oscar Swahn was 64 when he won a gold medal in the Olympic 1912 Games. And despite what doctors say is a heart enlargement, the UAE’s Sheikh Ahmed bin Hashar Al-Maktoum, a member of Dubai’s ruling family and an Olympic gold medallist in Athens in 2004 at the double-trap, is 48.

Shooting requires speed and accuracy. You need to be a deadeye and have steady nerves, concentration, confidence and, as in any sport, natural talent. Shooting events rely on mental power, according to a news report by BBC Sport. “People of all ages can compete against each other on equal terms.”

Marksmen have to lock the rifle firmly in the pocket of their shoulders. Having it resting against their shoulders when they shoot at the target, the rifle snaps back, leaving marks that could lead to bruising.

“The physical challenges are actually in the 50 metre rifle because the weapon is heavier and the shooting positions are hard and painful,” Haitham says.

Haitham’s family is a source of motivation for her. “My family is extremely supportive. They believe I might have a big future in shooting.”

She hopes in the future to win more medals and championships, and reach a point of “worthiness” in shooting.

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