Sochi 2014: Pakistan’s lone ranger defies Taliban threat to hit ski slopes
Sochi 2014: At just 18, Muhammad Karim already Pakistan's sole Games athlete having defied Taliban insurgents to keep skiing
Imagine being the sole representative of 183 million people and preparing for an Olympic Games in the wake of your training facilities being destroyed by the Taliban.
That’s the position Muhammad Karim will find himself in when he competes in the giant slalom next week as Pakistan’s only athlete at Sochi 2014.
The 18-year-old grew up among some of the highest mountains in the world in the remote northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan where skiing was often the only way to get around.
The hotel has not been rebuilt and the roads are still unpaved. If the roads are paved and more people have access to the region then this game (skiing) will flourish
“I started skiing at the age of four years on wooden skis made by my uncle. Our schools were closed in the winter and skiing was the only way to spend our holidays,” Karim said.
“We made skis ourselves and went skiing on local slopes, then later the air force organised a competition in which we learnt more and then started this profession.”
The Austrian government helped pay for the construction of the Swat Valley ski resort in the 1980s, but the chairlifts, hotel and rental shops were set ablaze by Taliban insurgents in 2008 because they wanted to impose Sharia law, under which skiing would be banned.
Official support is important to Pakistan’s winter sports scene and although the country’s government claim the Taliban have now been eradicated from the region, in June 2012 ten foreign mountaineers were massacred at the foot of the country’s second-highest peak.
Over half a decade later, the Swat Valley resort has yet to be rebuilt, much to Karim’s frustration.
“The hotel has not been rebuilt and the roads are still unpaved. If the roads are paved and more people have access to the region then this game (skiing) will flourish,” he said.
Karim’s goal is a top 50 finish while simultaneously raising skiing’s profile in Pakistan, thus encouraging the government to invest in improving the meagre facilities currently available.
“I can’t wait to ski on the Sochi snow,” he added.
“I know it will be tough among the world’s best but I have practised hard and I will do my best to leave my mark at the highest level.”
Samsung are a proud partner of Team GB and are supporting the Samsung Galaxy Team. To meet the team, see exclusive content and win amazing prizes, including once-in-a-lifetime winter sport training sessions with the Samsung Galaxy Team athletes, visit: www.samsung.com/uk/sochi2014