Rahman carrying Bangladesh's first-medal hopes


Bangladesh made its Olympics debut as a nation in 1984. It remains one of 73 countries to never have won a medal of any hue. For that history to change, most Bangladesh sports fans are looking to golfer Siddikur Rahman, fittingly born in the same year that his nation took its bow in Los Angeles.

Rahman is also the first Bangladeshi who has qualified directly for the quadrennial event, making the cut for the top 60 golfers in the Olympic rankings in July.

Rahman is looking forward to make the most of this opportunity, which he calls the "greatest possible thing" to have happened in his career.

"Eta te aami kemni bhaabe inspire hoyechi, eta aami aapna ke bojhatey paarbo na (I cannot explain to you how much inspiration I have taken from this)," says Rahman. "The lift that the media and the fans back home have given me as well as the pride that I have been feeling since is just phenomenal. Erokom ishara aami kokhono paayini (I have never got this kind of a response before)."

Qualifying for the Olympics would have been far from Rahman's mind when his association with the sport began as a forecaddie -- or a ballboy, as they are called in Bangladesh -- often employed in golf clubs to walk ahead of the golfers and spot the balls when they land.

"I used to work at the Kurmitola Golf Club, since I lived within two kilometres of the course, and that's where my interest in the game developed," recalls Rahman of those early days as an eager teenager. "My friends used to play, and I would sometimes join them for fun. I never had any equipment or clubs of my own."

The turning point came in 1999 when a 15-year-old Rahman was invited by his employers to participate in a selection trial for the national team. Playing with equipment and clothing loaned out by the club he worked for on a daily basis, Rahman says he staved off competition from 150 others to earn a place in the national team.

"You must realise that golf is a very new sport for Bangladesh," he says when talking of his first eight years as an amateur, a time that included an appearance in the individual event in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha. "Though there have been professional golfers before me, nobody has competed on the Asian Tour or won professionally abroad before me. But the best part of this qualification has been the appreciation that I have got.

Rahman is the winner of the Brunei Open 2010 and Indian Open 2013, both Asian Tour events which had several familiar names on the major circuit. Two of those names were tied-second and a shot behind him when he won the Indian Open in New Delhi three years ago. "I am looking forward to meeting both Anirban Lahiri and SSP Chawrasia," says Rahman. "Anirban and I turned pro in the same year. Anirban and I won our [foursomes] match in the EurAsia Cup [in 2014]. It's great fun meeting these guys because we speak the same languages. I have picked up a fair amount of Hindi and they speak Bangla well too."

"You must realise that golf is a very new sport for Bangladesh. Though there have been professional golfers before me, nobody has competed on the Asian Tour or won professionally abroad before me." Siddikur Rahman

Rahman would do well to heed the advice of Asif Hossain Khan, who went into the 2004 Athens Olympics as the reigning Commonwealth Games champion in the men's 10m air rifle, but finished 35th after failing to qualify for the final. "The step up from the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games up to the Olympics is a massive one," says Khan. "You can get overexcited sometimes, and there is always pressure. When I won gold at the Commonwealth Games I was really happy, but you realise that your responsibilities go up too. I would just tell Siddikur and the other debutants not to try too many things and carry the honour of the country."

Another connection between Khan and Rahman is that they were both the flagbearers for their modest contingents at the opening ceremony -- Rahman had four wildcard compatriots for company as opposed to Khan's three.

Khan remembers meeting Abhinav Bindra among other sportspersons and cherishes how all sportspersons he met treated him with respect. Rahman too has his sights set on the stars he admires and wants to meet. "I would want to meet Roger Federer, Michael Phelps and the Williams sisters," he says. "If I meet them, I would love to have a chat and maybe take a selfie with them."

His focus has always been on the game, as one would expect from someone who has kept up his habit of spending eight hours every day in practice since landing in Rio de Janeiro on August 3.

"Golf is a very strange game," says Rahman. "Your time can come on any given day. I just want to seek the blessings of my countrymen. Please pray for me. I want to perform well. This will be a massive moment for me."

(Additional reporting by Mohammad Isam in Dhaka)