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Fatimah has chance to become first Iraqi archer to shoot at World Cup Final

25 June 2014
Lausanne (SUI)
After taking silver at the third 2014 tour stage in Antalya, ALMASHHADANI repeated in Sofia one week later – placing second at a European Grand Prix.

It’s a promising run of results for the young 16-year-old, who first hit the radar at the end of 2013. She reached the compound women’s quarterfinals at the Wuxi 2013 World Archery Youth Championships and knocked out a number of seeds at the Belek senior worlds.

At only her second World Cup stage – she shot Antalya 2013 – Fatimah ALMASHHADANI beat a host of titleholders during eliminations. Multiple world champion Jamie VAN NATTA, from the USA, fell – as did Colombia’s match world record holder Sara LOPEZ and Alejandra USQUIANO, the reigning World Cup champion.

“I feel almost guilty,” said Fatimah with absolute sincerity before the Antalya 2014 finals two weeks ago. “All these archers are great champions.”

The gold medal match saw Russia’s Natalia AVDEEVA line-up opposite Fatimah in the beachfront finals arena. ALMASHHADANI led for the first three ends, backed by a very vocal Iraqi fanbase, which had travelled for the match and been severely strengthened by an effective campaign of flag distribution and encouragement.

But the crowd of athletes and spectators of all nationalities getting behind the underdog could not shoot Fatimah’s last three arrows for her. The pair were drawing at 12/15 arrows shot, and ALMASHHADANI finished with two nines and an eight. Gold went to AVDEEVA.

“I wasn’t nervous at all last night, but when I got to the finals field my heart starting going faster.” Fatimah explained: “It was difficult to control my body. I was shooting fast.”

“But I like shooting fast – because I am more focused.”

That focus was back one week later in Sofia. Fatimah qualified a respectable sixth before shooting a tournament-high 148 in match play eliminations, and squeezing out a one-point, 146-145, win over Croatian Maja ORLIC to make the European Grand Prix final.

Toja CERNE – Slovenia’s resident dual-sport archer-gymnast, who came second at Medellin this year – beat Fatimah to win gold. The silver in Sofia proved, though, that ALMASHHADANI’s Antalya podium was no fluke.

Fatimah is on Iraq’s team list for Wroclaw. (In fact: she is the only athlete on their team list for Wroclaw.) In a compound women’s division that is still wide open in the race to Lausanne, it means ALMASHHADANI’s making a push to qualify.

She currently sits in 10th in the rankings, 16 points behind leader Erika JONES but just five points behind fourth place. It’s practically impossible to predict the finalists in a division where six ranking points separates six places – but a top eight finish might be enough to secure her a spot at the World Cup Final. Anything higher would practically make her a lock.

Coming from a country of around 150 archery athletes, Fatimah’s achievements in the last month already mark a huge step forward for universality and parity in the sport.

“We don’t have any dedicated outdoor fields for archery at all,” she said, explaining that she trains in her back garden in Baghdad at 10 metres. “There is just one area in the north of Iraq where we can hold training camps – but there is no shade and no grass.”

Fatimah’s story is one that emphasises the value of a good coach. Her mother taught her recurve archery – along with her Olympian sister, Rand – and she’s now coached by Majid AHMADI, who won a World Cup stage team gold with the Iranian compound men’s team back in 2006.

“Coach AHMADI has been selfless for me, and the national team,” said FATIMAH. “Iraq is a dangerous country, and he has fought long and hard for Iraqi archery.”

The storyline in Wroclaw in just over a month’s time is whether that fight leads to a historic first Archery World Cup Final qualifier for Iraq in 2014.