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Nasser Al Attiyah, below, is all set to race for Citroen in the World Rally Championship after a good year, but is also driven by his desire to finish in the top three in clay pigeon shooting at the 2012 London Olympics. Daniel Garcia; Alex Mita / AFP
Nasser Al Attiyah, below, is all set to race for Citroen in the World Rally Championship after a good year, but is also driven by his desire to finish in the top three in clay pigeon shooting at the 2012 London Olympics. Daniel Garcia; Alex Mita / AFP

Rally champion Al Attiyah wants to add double track to success

After the MERC title, Qatar's Al Attiyah tells Graham Caygill he wants to fulfil a fifth Olympic dream, in shooting.

Next year promises to be a memorable and very busy one for Nasser Al Attiyah.

While most athletes dream of being the best in their field, only a few are able to say they are the best. Fewer still can match Al Attiyah's accomplishments.

He is a rare exception who has excelled in two sports, and he hopes to show off his talents on the world stage in the coming year after an excellent past 12 months.

The Qatari's pedigree as a rally driver was cemented earlier this month as victory in the Dubai International Rally ensured that he won the Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) for a seventh time after a dominant campaign that saw him win five of the six events.

However, the 40 year old is not putting his feet up as he looks forward to a World Rally Championship season with Citroen next year, driving alongside Sebastien Loeb, the eight-time world champion, and Mikko Hirvonen.

He will also be defending his MERC crown and his Dakar Rally title next month, having made history in January by being the first Arab driver to win the classic event.

"This year has been fantastic," he said. "But next year hopefully will be as good, if not better."

But on top of all that, he will be focusing on the second sport in which he has a strong talent - clay pigeon shooting. And he is aiming to compete at next summer's Olympic Games, which would be his fifth competing in the skeet shooting category.

"It is my dream to compete at a fifth Olympic Games," he said. "I am training hard for it to ensure I am at my best, and that I have the best chance of representing my country again. London is going to be a great occasion and I want to be part of it. I believe I am good enough to compete for a medal and that is what I am targeting."

Having taken part in the Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing Games, Al Attiyah is keen to complete some unfinished business by finishing in the top three for the first time.

To qualify for London, Al Attiyah needs to put in a strong showing at the Asian Championships next month in Doha - requiring a top-four finish to ensure he is on the plane to England next summer.

He came close in Athens in 2004 on fulfilling his medal ambition as he finished fourth after missing out in a shoot-out for the bronze, and he believes that if he is to stand on the podium in London he will need to be error free.

"It is very difficult [to win a medal] as one miss can drop you from first right down the order," he said. "I have been in strong positions before [at the Olympic Games] and it has not worked out for various reasons, but hopefully this time will be different if I qualify."

Al Attiyah was Qatar's flag bearer at the 2008 Games in Beijing, and he is proud of being able to represent his country and the Middle East on the world stage. "It is a fantastic feeling," he said. "I have had a lot of support from my country and am very proud to represent them and I just want to do them proud."

Though rallying and shooting have very different characteristics, Al Attiyah believes the skills he has picked up shooting have helped him behind the wheel.

"I find that they help each other in some ways," he said. "You need great levels of concentration for shooting and that is also very important for rallying.

"You have to focus and concentrate on each stage and each corner to do your best, and that is something that I think has been improved by shooting. Being strong in the mind is important for any sportsman and I feel that is something I have really developed."

 

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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