Iran’s 20-year-old Haniyeh Rostamiyan, the bronze medallist in the women’s 25m pistol final at the ongoing International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup in Delhi, was never a favourite to win a medal. Very few Iranian shooters are, even when they reach the final. After all, they come from a country where they do not have the basic access to high-quality ammunition.
There is an international embargo on importing arms into the country and the sanctions have made it tough for Iranian shooters to practice at home. Usually, they train with locally made bullets or dry firing – shooting without bullets. The only time they can practice with proper ammunition is when outside the country at another competition.
Yet, the 20-year-old came close... very close to clinching an Olympic quota for her country. After not one but three series of shoot-offs, she finished third and became the first Iranian female pistol shooter to win an ISSF World Cup medal.
The soft-spoken youngster was delighted with her achievement but rued missing the quota spot that would have given the handicapped sport of shooting a boost in her country.
“I have been shooting for about eight years now and this is my first World Cup medal in seniors. I am very happy about that. I missed the quota so it was sad, but maybe next time,” Haniyeh Rostamiyan told Scroll.in after her bronze.
“We have some problem with ammunition in pistol so we don’t have good training. But with bad training we are doing our best,” she said.
How much of a difference using local bullets make? Think of it as using an ill-fitting, lower-grad case to store your branded sunglasses. The bullets are just not the right fit for the international-standard pistol and over higher distances, the velocity of the shot is also affected.
“They are low quality, so they don’t have the same speed and malfunction often,” she added. “In 10m air pistol, it is easier but in 25m sport pistol it is difficult if the bullet is slow.”
“Our air weapon shooters don’t have problems, but it is difficult for the 50m and 25m shooters. We can’t import ammunitions in Iran because of USA’s sanctions, so we have to either rely on the Iran-made bullets or from the countries which don’t have US sanctions.”
“We buy bullets for the venue of the tournaments we participate in. So our shooters have bought bullets from the National Rifle Association of India for this World Cup. Likewise, we buy it from other countries when we visit them. We buy bullets only for the match and we can’t take them home with us,” Maryam Talebi, Iran coach, explained the predicament.
In most countries, shooters prepare for shoot-offs by simulating those conditions. But Rostamiyan does not have that luxury. Would have done better in the shoot-off against the supremely experienced Zhang Jingjing if she did? Maybe is her hesitant answer.
But there is nothing hesitant in the way she clinches her first World Cup medal. Against a competitive field, she held her own from the start with four out of her five series being 4/5 hits. In the shoot-off against a player with 15 World Cup medals, she went toe-to-toe for two straight series, before falling in the third.
It was a defining moment for the 20-year-old who has two Asian Championship medals including a gold in New Delhi in 2015 in the Youth category.
She was a 12-year-old when she started shooting thanks to a shooting range near her home in Tehran. She had the full support of her family when she chose to take the path of sports. “My family cant help with ammunition but they support me every other way. In national competitions, my parents come to see me,” she said.
“In Iran, women shooters are doing better than men in pistol. In rifle, they [rifle shooters like Elaheh Ahmadi and Najmeh Khedmati] have won medals as well. Shooting is a very popular sport for women in Iran,” she explained.
At present, there are 15 pistol shooters training nationally, seven of them are women and they often train with 10m shooters and they have a foreign coach as well.
Personally, she has started undergoing a lot more intense physical training. She lifts weights three days a week and has a mental conditioning coach as well, leaving no stone unturned in ensuring she can not only win the quota place but compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as well.
Anna Korakaki, who became the first Greek woman to win an Olympic medal – a gold and a bronze at Rio 2016 – is Rostamiyan’s idol; a fact she enthusiastically proclaims. The youngster now hopes to emulate her role model as she overcomes obstacles to reach Tokyo 2020.