Pregnant Malaysian shooter eyes Olympic gold
- 25 July 2012
- From the section Asia
It is one of the first events of the London Olympics on Saturday morning, but the 10-metre women's air rifle could also be among the most sensational.
Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi, a shooter from Malaysia, will compete at the Royal Artillery Barracks while eight months pregnant.
At least three expectant mothers have competed at the Olympics before, but Suryani, as she likes to be known, will easily be the most heavily pregnant athlete to have taken part.
"Since I started shooting in 1997, I've been dreaming of going to the Olympics," she said, after a morning training at Malaysia's National Shooting Range on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.
So when in January Suryani discovered that she was pregnant, her first thought was that her London ambitions were over.
But after talking to her husband and praying, she changed her mind. If "everything is in order", she would still try, she told me.
Two days later, she qualified for the Games in the 10-metre air rifle, and has not looked back since.
Despite an early period of morning sickness, Suryani's now thinks that pregnancy might even give her a small advantage.
"Now I have balance at the front and the back," she said, with a smile. "So the stability is there."
With her stomach bulging, just getting in and out of the thick suit she uses for shooting is something of an ordeal. It is with a sigh of relief that she unbuckles her belt to allow herself to sit down and talk to me.
Not everyone in Malaysia is backing her decision to take part, but beneath the smiles, it is clear that there is steely determination to the 30-year-old naval officer.
"Some people say that I'm crazy. Some people say I'm too selfish. But I just ignore what others say. I just concentrate on what I want to do and what I dream of."
And that dream currently involves picking up Malaysia's first-ever gold medal at lunchtime on Saturday.
Currently ranked 47th in the world, it would be a considerable upset if Suryani did make it onto the podium. But to her credit, she already has a solid tournament record, with a gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2010, and a bronze at the Asian Games.
If she is to come out on top, she will need her unborn daughter to play her part and not kick at a crucial moment.
"On the morning of the competitions, normally, I will say to my baby, 'Mummy's going to compete today so I need you to calm down, and then afterwards if you want to be active and you want to kick a ball or something that's OK!'"
Outside the indoor shooting range, JJ Raj, the secretary general of the National Shooting Association of Malaysia, and Muzli Mustakim, Suryani's manager, joins us.
As they share a farewell drink by the swimming pool, JJ Raj says he knows that Malaysia's prime minister will be taking a special interest in her event.
Luckily, Suryani is unflappable and shrugs it off.
If she happens to get a medal, she says she would share it with her daughter, but if not, she would settle for sharing the memories.
"When the baby is born, I will tell her you are very lucky," she said. "You were not born yet, but you competed with me in the Olympic games."