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Aiming for glory

Female shooter proud to represent Yemen in Paris

Updated: 2024-07-10 09:27
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Yemeni Olympic athlete Yasameen Al-Raimi lines up a shot during an air pistol training session in Sanaa, Yemen, on July 2, as she prepares for the Paris Games. AFP

Standing by the blue wall of a sports hall in Sanaa, Yemen, Yasameen Al-Raimi raises her air pistol and pauses, studying the target 10 meters away.

Squeezing the trigger, the Yemeni Olympic medal hopeful fires a metal pellet through the middle of the paper square, which rebounds with a clang off the metal plate behind.

Raimi, in traditional black hijab, safety glasses and yellow ear protectors, is training for the Paris Olympics, one of the biggest competitions of her life.

But, while her rivals are preparing on purpose-built ranges at high-tech shooting centers, the markswoman from the conflict-torn Middle Eastern country must muddle through as best she can.

Her makeshift range is roped off by red-and-white plastic tape, the sort commonly seen on building sites. It is tied to a wooden desk bearing her equipment: extra targets, a pistol case, and an electric pulley.

Pushing a button on the pulley, a fresh black-and-white target rattles away on a string to the end of the range, marked by a low, spotlit gray wall. After the session, she scrutinizes her pellet-ridden targets, pen in hand.

Raimi is no stranger to making-do. It's a fact of life in Yemen, which has been engulfed in a civil war since late 2014, when the Houthi militia seized control of several northern provinces and forced the internationally-recognized government out of Sanaa.

But, recent months have been particularly tense, with the capital city under sporadic fire from US and British forces.

The US-led Western allies are retaliating for the Houthis' drone-and-missile campaign against shipping in the Red Sea, which they say is in solidarity with Palestinians during the Gaza conflict.

Yasameen Al-Raimi prepares her air pistol during a training session in Sanaa, Yemen, on July 2. AFP

Training on the roof

Raimi started shooting in 2010, but after the civil war broke out, she put her career on hold for five years before returning to competition in 2020.

At times, with constant power cuts and nowhere else to train, she was reduced to training on the roof of her house.

"There was no electricity for me to shoot, and I could not find a place to train," she told reporters.

"I even went through a period when I made the roof of my house a shooting spot to continue training."

After finishing second last at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021, she competed at the 2022 World Championships in Cairo and the Asian Championships earlier this year.

"I never stopped training at all. It was daily, and in two periods — morning and evening," she said.

In Paris, she will be the only woman in Yemen's four-strong team, which also includes a swimmer, a sprinter and a judoka.

"I feel honored and proud to be a woman representing Yemen, and also to be a Yemeni athlete at this Olympics," Raimi said, calling it "the dream of any athlete".

'Raise the flag high'

Her coach, Amal Modhesh, is doing what she can for Raimi, despite lacking any great experience and professional credentials.

"Yasameen does most of her training by herself. She is a very diligent shooter despite the lack of resources, especially a professional coach," Modhesh said.

These difficulties have only "increased her determination to reach her goal and raise the flag of Yemen high", adds the coach.

Raimi laments the lack of support from the authorities, saying most of her training camps and competition trips came at her own expense.

However, she is pleased to receive support from the Yemen Olympic Committee (YOC), which funnels funding from the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Council of Asia.

YOC secretary-general Mohamed Abdullah Al-Ahjri said Yemen's athletes, present and future, need official help if they are to thrive.

"I say to the officials, whether at the level of Yemeni sports, or at the level of the country in general: Yemeni sports must be given the attention it deserves in order for it to develop," he said.


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