LONDON – Nasser Al-Attiyah is going to have to start thinking up some new goals. The two he had have been scratched off the list.
Winning the Dakar Rally, the world’s toughest motor race? Did that last year.
Winning an Olympic medal? Did that Tuesday.
It took five Olympics and three finals but Al-Attiyah finally achieved his greatest ambition in sports when he won the bronze in the skeet at the Royal Artillery Barracks. Knowing all about his humble character and undying passion, it seemed like every shooter, coach, referee and even venue staff wanted to hug the 41-year-old from Qatar.
“This is a really fantastic day for me,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this medal for a long time, 20 years. I have everything in my home except an Olympic medal. It means so much.”
Of course, ending the wait wasn’t easy. After two days of qualifying he made the six-man final in fourth place, two behind Vincent Hancock, the American who broke his own Olympic qualifying record. There was no catching Hancock, who didn’t miss in the final and extended his own total Olympic record. Anders Golding of Denmark missed only once and claimed the silver.
But Al-Attiyah and Valeriy Shomin, the 2010 world champion from Russia competing on his 41st birthday, were still tied after the final, having missed six clay targets out of 150.
Al-Attiyah, whose first Olympics were in Atlanta, reached the finals in Sydney and Athens, where he lost a bronze-medal shoot-off to Juan Miguel Rodriguez of Cuba 10-9, a painful result he has finally banished. This time, they didn’t go that long. Shomin missed first, on his sixth shot.
“I remembered Athens, so I said, ‘OK, I’ll do my best to finish third.’ I believed in myself. For the last 10 days I worked very, very hard and I felt good on this range. When I reached the final, I said to myself, ‘This is a great day for me.’”
And a great day for Qatar, which has only competed at the Olympics since 1984. Al-Attiyah won the country’s third ever medal. The others were bronze, too, for 1,500-meter runner Mohammed Suleiman in 1992, and weightlifter Said Saif Asaad in 2000.
“Qatar, she has given me everything,” Al-Attiyah said. “It’s important to me to return something to Qatar.”
Qatar’s greatest sportsman has been doing that for years.
He made his World Rally Championship debut in 2004, and won his first stage in his second race. He was the 2006 production car world rally champion in 2006, and last December won his seventh Middle East Rally title. But the highlight of his driving career was winning the Dakar in 2011, as the first Arab champion. The year before he lost by two minutes in the closest Dakar ever.
He returned last January with a new team and car and won two stages, but persistent engine troubles, and a call from home to enter the Asian shooting championships in Doha, made him retire from the rally in Chile while he was far off the pace. If he had been leading, he said, he would have stayed.
A week later, feeling no pressure because of the lack of expectations, he won the Asian title and became only the fourth skeet shooter to score a perfect 150. That earned him an Olympic spot.
How has he managed to be good at both driving and shooting?
“Very hard work,” he said. “It’s like school. If you don’t have good exams you will fail. It’s not easy. I’ve spent 20 years in both sports at a very high level, but if you were to ask me about some place in Qatar, I wouldn’t know because I’ve spent most of my time outside the country.”
He estimated he spends six-seven months away from his wife and child. He broke his rally contract to concentrate on shooting this year. He’s competed in only five of the seven WRC races, and was 10th in the standings.
“When I’m at home I normally shoot 500 cartridges a day, so I train five or six hours every day,” he said. “I go to rallies to relax.”
This won’t be his last Olympics, he said, which must mean he has a new goal.
“I don’t know, but always I do my best,” he said. “And the first thing is to enjoy it.” — AP