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Qatar's first female Olympians on target to make history

From Rima Maktabi and Jon Jensen, CNN
May 7, 2012 -- Updated 1018 GMT (1818 HKT)
Air rifle shooter Bahiya Al-Hammad, 19, training at her club near Doha, Qatar.
Air rifle shooter Bahiya Al-Hammad, 19, training at her club near Doha, Qatar.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Brunei are the only countries that have never sent female athletes to Olympics
  • Air rifle shooter Bahiya Al-Hamad, swimmer Nada Arkaji and sprinter Noor al-Malki will compete at London 2012
  • "It's an accomplishment for every Qatari woman," said Al-Hamad

Editor's note: Each month, Inside the Middle East takes you behind the headlines to see a different side of this diverse region. Follow us on on Twitter: Presenter Rima Maktabi: @rimamaktabi, producer Jon Jensen: @jonjensen and writer Cat Davies @catrionadavies

Doha, Qatar (CNN) -- Bahiya Al-Hamad is a 19-year-old college student and air-rifle shooter who is about to make history for her country.

When she travels to London to take part in the Olympic Games this summer, she will be part of the first group of Qatari women ever to compete at the Olympics.

Qatar is one of only three countries -- the others are Saudi Arabia and Brunei -- which have never sent female athletes to an Olympics Games. This year, three women will represent Qatar at London 2012. The others are swimmer Nada Arkaji and sprinter Noor al-Malki.

It's an accomplishment for every Qatari woman.
Bahiya Al-Hammad

All three women have been given wild cards, but there is still a weight of expectation that is not lost of Al-Hamad.

"It's an accomplishment for every Qatari woman," she said. "I hope I can live up to their expectation."

Training at her shooting club outside Qatar's capital Doha, Al-Hamad added: "Every athlete's dream is to reach the Olympics."

Competing in London in July and August will be a high point in her life as well as a historic moment for Qatar. "I will be very excited to go see the atmosphere there and it will sure be one the most special days of my life," she said.

Qatar's first female Olympians

Al-Hamad has won several regional competitions in the 10-meter rifle shooting category, but missed out on automatically qualifying for London 2012 by half a point. She said she was asleep when she received a call to say she had been awarded a wild card.

"I wanted to scream," she said. "I really loved it. I was optimistic, but never expected to reach the Olympics.

"My dream when it comes to shooting is to be the Olympic or world champion."

See also: Will Saudi women make Olympics debut?

It will sure be one the most special days of my life.
Bahiya Al-Hammad

One of her shooting club colleagues, Ali Rashid al-Mohannadi, 21, Gulf and Arab champion, and a senior engineering student, said he has nothing but respect for Al-Hamad.

"I think women now are better than us," he said. "I'm very happy, because she's a talented shooter. I'm very happy for her, and I hope she does well in the Olympic Games."

However, not everyone in his socially conservative country feel the same.

"I feel men don't realize the idea yet, but it depends," said Al-Hamad. "Some of them are OK with it, some are not. They say 'you're a girl and you shoot?'"

She added: "Before, shooting was only for guys but now it became normal for females to an extent. When they saw women emerging in shooting they became a little bit more accepting."

Also on Inside the Middle East: Iraqi artist inspired by George W Bush shoe thrower

Al-Hamad, who is in her foundation year at Qatar University, is now training two hours a day, five days a week with her Uzbeki coach to be ready to compete alongside the world's greatest 10-meter rifle shooters.

"We participated in the junior Olympic Games in Singapore two years back but the result was not good," said her coach, Ivan Shahov. "But I hope with this Olympic Games we have a chance."

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