KUWAIT May 30 Mariam Erzouqi grips her
German-made air rifle with carefully-manicured hands, steadies
her footing, eyes the target and slowly pulls the trigger until
a soft crack echoes through Kuwait's cavernous shooting range.
The 24-year-old, who is set to become the second Kuwaiti
woman to compete at an Olympic Games, has an affinity for her
rifle and will take dead aim at a medal in the 10 and 50 metres
air rifle in London.
She first held a rifle at Kuwait's shooting club aged 17 and
recalls that date - June 16, 2004 - without a moment's
"At the beginning I practiced it was just to fill my time,
then afterwards I discovered that I was very attached to the
rifle," said Erzouqi, dressed in multi-coloured team jumpsuit
emblazoned with her family name, a black headscarf and heavy
"I loved the sport and it quickly turned into a profession
rather than a hobby."
Erzouqi comes from a family of female shooters who helped
form her vital support base. All four of her sisters took up the
rifle under the guidance of their watchful mother Awatif, who is
also a shooter and competition judge.
Mariam and her 14-year-old sister Heba pursued the sport and
are now friendly rivals.
"Heba tells Mariam - watch out, I will beat you!" her mother
recounts with a laugh in between inspecting Mariam's scores and
checking her rifles.
She makes sure her daughter keeps to a timetable drawn up by
her coach which has her juggling training sessions at the Kuwait
shooting complex up to six days a week alongside her studies.
"My female friends teased me in the beginning, but when they
saw me winning trophies at home and abroad they encouraged me,"
Erzouqi said with a small smile.
"Shooting is not just for young men, there are also girls
doing it. It is not rough. It calms my nerves and helps me to
STRONG SUPPORT BASE
Erzouqi is seen as especially fortunate with the support she
has received in Kuwait, where women can find themselves
unwelcome at other sporting clubs or on the receiving end of
disapproving comments from more conservative corners of society.
There are also questions over Kuwait's participation in the
Olympics this year. The International Olympic Committee
suspended Kuwait in 2010, saying there was evidence of political
interference in the Kuwaiti sports organisations.
Kuwaiti officials have said they were working with the IOC
to solve the issue in time for the Games and that they expected
Erzouqi and her teammates to be able to fly the national flag in
But a decision by the IOC at a recent meeting in Quebec
means that Kuwaiti competitors could participate under the
Olympic flag with the title "Independent Olympic Athlete".
Erzouqi is following in the footsteps of Danah al-Nasrallah,
the first female Kuwaiti athlete to compete at an Olympics.
Nasrallah took part in the 100m in 2004, ranking 61st of 63
competitors in the first round.
Erzouqi's chances look better.
The petite business administration student finished second
in the Asian qualifiers in the 10m rifle category, her best
She won two gold medals at the recent Arab Games and is
competing in one of Kuwait's traditionally strong sports. The
country won its only Olympic medal - a bronze - in the double
trap shooting competition at the 2000 Sydney Games.
The Kuwaiti media has been full of positive coverage of her
achievements and the shooting club says it encourages female
participants to take up the sport.
This is in stark contrast to neighbouring Saudi Arabia which
has never sent a female athlete to the Olympics and discourages
women from sport altogether.
Around 45 girls and women come to the Kuwaiti shooting club
on a regular basis, compared to 160 men on the national team. As
an international competitor, Erzouqi receives a 400 dinar
($1,428) monthly stipend from the government.
As the Olympics falls in part during the Muslim holy month
of Ramadan, Erzouqi will be fasting, but she says this should
not affect her performance thanks to her training.
"If the tournament or training is held in the morning during
my fasting times, my performance is not affected because here in
Kuwait, we already used to come and train in the mornings," she
"We used to feel exhausted but now we can overcome that and
we can endure tiredness, even while we're fasting."
Her mother can testify to her daughter's focus and
endurance, having travelled with her to different countries on
many occasions for competitions.
"Sometimes I told her, let's go look at the market, we want
to see the country! But no, for Mariam it is shooting,
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)