Taking Bangladesh to new heights

Asif Hossain Khan: Shooting to Commonwealth glory at 15

Quazi Zulquarnain Islam

PLUCKED from obscurity, Asif Hossain Khan shot to international fame and on the 31st of July 2002 when against all odds he edged out the favourite Abhinav Bindra of India to capture captured gold in the men's 10-metre air-rifle final of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. It was Bangladesh's first gold in the 17th edition of the Games.

Hard to believe that Asif was only 15 years old at the time when he achieved the astonishing feat.

However, the story of the wonder-kid begins in the bustling district of Pabna. In a sports mad country, where cricket is by far the most predominant sport, Asif instead chose to take up shooting. Both his maternal and paternal sides of the family have deep-rooted ties with the sport. In fact, two of his maternal uncles are also members of the Pabna Rifle Club.

Asif's introduction to shooting came while as a student of class four and he honed his skills on the shooting ranges of the Pabna Rifle Club. Shooting was however not his preferred choice of sport as he was also a keen athlete. That did not stop him from proving his mettle as an expert marksman, when he won back-to-back titles at the inter-club shooting competition in 1999 and 2000.

Strangely, Asif's love for athletics landed at the country's lone sports institute -- the Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protisthan or BKSP in 2000. Supported and pushed all the way by Bacchu Mama, a maternal uncle.

All that was about to change when one day his coach Faruq at that time told him said that the BKSP was forming a shooting team. And he insisted that Asif should definitely give it a try given his family roots. After careful consideration the youngster signed up, more out of a sense of responsibility than anything else.

The coaches and trainers drilled into him a winning mentality a competitive spirit, two attributes, which he says 'are the basis behind all his success to this day'.

Asif's first taste of national competition was the seventh Bangladesh Games in 2002 where he surprised many with a bronze medal finish. It was at that time that he was spotted by national scouts who then handpicked him for the national camp that would decide who went to the Commonwealth Games in Manchester later that year.

The youngster recalls that even though he was surprised at the call-up it was his goal to try and make the final cut for Manchester. His hard work and dedication at the camp alerted his superiors and he won himself a ticket to the English city. But the rest as they say is history.

That historic day in Manchester is still fresh in the memory.

“Coming to take his final shot, I was lying in fifth place and perhaps if I could make a good shot, I would probably end up fourth. The bronze was also a possibility but slightly unlikely. However, I hit a remarkable 9.9 with my last shot, to end with a total of 691.9.

“I somehow knew that it was a good one. So I started scanning the board from the bottom up. To my great shock I found my name resting atop the leaderboard,” he narrated.

While he stood totally speechless thinking that the final result might have been a computer error. But there could be no mistaking the cheers from the small Bangladeshi contingent of sportsmen and women who went into raptures as they ran to him embraced him and covered him with the national flag.

“Frankly, it was not until I stood on the podium to receive my medal with our national anthem playing in the background that the magnitude of my achievement began to sink in.”

That day in Manchester, Asif admits, has significantly changed his life. Before that he was shooting for himself only and had only himself, anything to prove to. However since that day the rest of an entire nation rests on his youthful shoulders. It is tough at times but Asif says that it also serves as an extra motivation.

The Commonwealth Games over then Asif participated in the Asian Games. Though he didn't reach the dizzy heights, as he finished 12th, at least he had the satisfaction of knowing his total score was higher than his gold medal winning effort.

Asif had served notice and the tournaments kept on coming. He performed respectably at the World Cup in Munich in 2003 before clinching gold in the SAF Games in Pakistan a year later.

His next achievement was to become the first Bangladeshi to participate in a shooting event in the Olympics.

Though he finished 35th but Asif reckons that competing on the world's greatest stage is perhaps his highest honour to date and he admits to having been more than a little fazed at competing on such a grand and global scale.

However his competitive spirit won through even there and he says that in the end he gave his best. Asif's humility is evident when the youngster is quick to point out that rather than the “gold in Manchester,” this 35th place finish is where he really stood.

“The Olympics are the ultimate benchmark and I believe it's important not to forget that.”

The next stop for Asif was the 2005 Asian Championships in Thailand where he won the bronze medal. In spite of that, it was in this tournament that he earned his highest total score to date and it is this bronze medal that he rates higher than all his other achievements.

At the moment Asif is busy preparing for a busy international schedule next year, which includes the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games to be held in Melbourne.

Asif says that perhaps the greatest motivating factor behind his success has been his mother, who has constantly pushed him to test himself and had been telling him ever since he could remember that he should stick to shooting as it was “in his blood.” He is also quick to acknowledge the help of all his coaches in reaching to the stage that he is in today.

Like every other story, though, his also has its flipside. All the time that he has had to devote to shooting has adversely affected his studies and he has already dropped a year of education. He is quick to admit that he has never been an “A grade” student but he thinks that education is vital. With no sporting quotas in Dhaka University, Asif is still not sure where his future lies education wise. As a word of warning to prospective sportsmen, he relates that education is absolutely essential and it should be pursued even if it meant sacrificing a certain amount of sporting time.

Asif also complains vociferously about the lack of training facilities and the lack of support of the government in a sport which will always lie in the shadow of cricket.

He feels that training in foreign school and training centres would have undoubtedly aided his development further. He is slightly bitter also about the fact that the Abhinav Bindra who he beat in 2002 finished seventh at the Athens Olympics well ahead of the man who had pipped him to the gold medal two years ago. He puts that down mostly to lack of preparation on his part and the exceptional facilities provided by India.

Asif says that it's important to challenge oneself with every step and as far as the national levels were concerned he pretty much had the key to them. Only competing in foreign countries against better opposition would help him reach his goal of becoming one of the premier marksmen in the world and thereby put Bangladesh in the map.

As far as shooting is concerned, the hopes and dreams of Bangladesh lies on the youthful shoulders of the soft-spoken Asif Hossain Khan.

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