ALREADY a competitive archer at a tender age of 10, Syaqiera Mashayikh grew up enjoying watching films such as “Brave” and “The Hunger Games” trilogy which feature sharpshooting female hero characters Princess Merida and Katniss Everdeen.
But come this Friday, the 20-year-old lass hailing from Medoi Felda settlement in Johor, will have her very own story to be told once she releases the first arrow from her recurve bow at Yumenoshima Park in Tokyo.
Competing in her maiden Olympics of course is no fantasy like those movies she had watched, but Syaqiera confessed she was left pinching herself “for days” after she was told about her selection for the Tokyo Games.
What’s more mind-blowing was that Syaqiera had only joined the national team last year and hasn’t even won a medal even at the Sukma level.
In terms of experience, her international debut was the Tokyo 2020 Final Qualification Tournament (FQT) and the third leg of World Cup, both in Paris a month ago.
“The news (of being selected) shook me up for quite a while. It took me a few days to actually come to realise that it’s not a dream,” said Segamat-born Syaqiera.
“It’s just unbelievable considering the inclusion came barely two weeks after none of us in the (women’s) team managed to qualify on merit through the final qualifiers in Paris.
“I know where exactly I stand as a national team rookie. Not only that I have not competed in any international meets until recently, I also have no medal to show from any major tournaments. Under these circumstances, what’s the odds of me making the grade to represent Malaysia at the Olympics?” she asked.
Syaqiera and the National Archery Association of Malaysia (NAAM) will have to thank Ivory Coast and New Zealand for returning the two women’s individual quotas they initially won for the Games.
As a result, it freed up slots for re-allocations to others on the ranking list and it went to Malaysia and Estonia.
Malaysia secured the precious ticket by virtue of having Nur Aliya Ghapar as the next highest-ranked recurve women at No. 58. Aliya is no longer with the national team after bring dropped early last year.
Fortunately, the World Archery’s rule states that any quota won is given to the national contingent rather than athletes concerned.
Syaqiera certainly deserved her spot as she posted 619 points twice during the FQT and World Cup in Paris to beat minimum standard set for archers at the Olympics (640 points for men and 605 for women).
Teammate Nurul Azreena Fazil matched the 619 effort but she only did it once during the FQT.
The women’s individual spot was crucial as it enabled Malaysia to qualify for the mixed team event as Khairul Anuar Mohamad had already won the men’s place with his silver medal medal finish at the World Championships in Holland in 2019.
Syaqiera is relishing the prospects of teaming up with Khairul, an archer she had looked up to all these years.
“Abang Khairul is the face of the national archery team for almost a decade now. I admire him for putting Malaysia on the world map with his excellent results,” said Syaqiera.
“It’s a great honour to be competing alongside him in the team event. I admit it’s going to be nervous, but I will try to catch up with him and not let him and the coaches down.
“I must make this mixed team playing opportunity worthwhile too. It’s really pleasing to know that I will be competing in two events, rather than one in my Olympics debut.”
Syaqiera will become the only third women’s archer to participate at the Olympics after Mon Redee Sut Txi (Athens 2004) and Nurul Syafiqah Hashim (London 2012).
But Syaqiera stands a chance of outdoing her predecessors’ record as Mon Redee and Nurul did not make it past the first round.
“My target in Tokyo is simple. To beat my personal best score of 619 and try to win my first round match. If I can do that, it’s considered satisfactory already,” she said.
“But I certainly believe I’m capable of achieving better results. I would like to use this unforeseen Olympics start to establish myself as world-beater in future.
“There’s also the SEA Games (now postponed to next year) and Asian Games coming up, I have to capitalise on every single exposure that I could get to gain invaluable competition experience.
“It sounds weird, but I hope that the Tokyo Olympics, which is supposed to be the pinnacle of any archer, will become my a stepping stone towards a great career in archery.
“I also look forward to running my own archery club and academy to encourage more people to take up this sport. But first, I’ll need to build some credentials first.”