Earlier this month Mahoor Shahzad become the first badminton player from Pakistan to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. The shuttler earned a place in the Tokyo Olympics courtesy of her recent performances and rankings. We sat down with Mahoor Shahzad to discuss her journey in badminton and what it feels like to be the first ever badminton player to represent Pakistan in the history of Olympics.
Excerpts from the exclusive interview with Mahoor Shahzad
- Congratulations on your Tokyo Olympics qualification. How does it feel to have become the first ever Pakistani badminton player to play in Olympics?
From the beginning of my professional career, it was my dream to represent my country in such a huge event like Olympics. I felt so accomplished when I came to know that my dream has come true. Being the first ever Pakistani badminton player to qualify for Olympics is a proud moment not only for me and my family, but also for the whole nation.
- Take us through your journey in Badminton. From Junior National Champion at the age or 13 till Olympics qualification at the age of 24. What are all the challenges you had to face?
Luckily I got a successful start to my professional Badminton career as I became the U-19 National Junior Champion at the age of just 13. However, I faced many challenges during my career. I always found it challenging to compete at the highest level while doing my bachelors. Moreover, due to less facilities like the availability of courts and coaches made it difficult to follow my training schedule smoothly.
- Do you feel that there is pressure of your shoulders as the whole Nation will be expecting you to deliver on such a big stage?
Obviously pressure has been building up on me since the day I qualified for Olympics as everybody expects me to perform well at the Olympics. Daily messages on social media from my fans and supporters show how high hopes do they have from me.
- You mentioned Saina Nehwal as your sporting idol in one of your interviews. How was it like to face her in the Commonwealth Games?
In 2018, I mentioned Saina Nehwal as my idol in an interview. I faced her in Commonwealth games 2018 and the arena was full of Indian supporters which was pressurising me. At that time Saina Nehwal was in her best shape, so I had to be at my very best to compete with her. I tried my best to play as accurate as I could with high pace. It was a great experience for me to play against her and nonetheless Indians also applauded for me for my performance and it was a huge encouragement for me. After the match I got many messages on social media from Indian fans who acknowledged my game.
- Who is that big name that you want to play against in the Olympics?
I would want to play against Nozomi Okuhara from Japan in Tokyo Olympics 2020.
- How are you preparing for the Tokyo Olympics with less than a month to go?
Since there is less than a month left for Tokyo Olympics, I’m more focused towards the details of my game and training on them for 5-6 hours a day. I’m also working on my physical fitness to sustain the high intensity matches at Olympics.
- Do you think Bio Bubbles can impact players performance in a game especially Mental Health. How do you plan to cope up with that in the Olympics?
Bio Bubbles will surely have an impact on the mental health of the players as it is quite difficult to stay locked in a room for several days and not having the chance get the fresh air to refresh our mind and keep ourselves distracted. Moreover, not practicing on court for several days is frustrating too. I plan to have stuff with me to help me distract my mind and not think much about the competition way before it starts.
- Do you wish to play tournaments in India and play the likes of PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal in BWF tournaments?
I would like to play tournaments in India as it’s always been a healthy competition between both the nations. It also gives a positive message of peace out there.
- Pakistan’s quest to make a mark in badminton has not been very successful. Why do you think it is the case? What steps should be taken in this direction according to you?
Firstly, there is no Badminton academy in Pakistan that meets the international standards. Hence, the players are training privately under private coaches and for that they also have to arrange a court for themselves. Therefore, it is difficult for players to design everything on their own including their court training, physical training, recovery processes, nutritional plan etc. Secondly, we lack sponsorships in the game of Badminton. In my opinion, sponsors are necessary for players as they help them gain international exposure and improve their game exponentially.
All the things mentioned above have a huge impact on the development of a player. Therefore, the infrastructure needs to be improved in order to make a mark at international level.
- As you climbed the international rankings, you completed your Bachelor’s degree too. How did you manage to balance both your studies and your game? Do you have any further plans regarding your education going ahead?
It was always challenging for me to compete while doing my bachelors as I mentioned above. However, I prioritized the right thing at the right time and that is the reason I was successful in achieving what I’ve achieved so far. Also, my university, The Institute of Business Administration (IBA) was supportive enough that they understood and coped with my training schedule. They also rescheduled my exams if I missed them due to any competition. Therefore, extra burden of university was removed and I could devote my time to training as well.
I am currently doing Postgraduate certificate in International sports management from University of London on fully funded scholarship by Badminton World Federation (BWF).