The fallout from Kuwait’s suspension by the International Olympic Committee was heightened when, in August 2016, Fehaid Aldeehani became the first ‘independent’ sportsman to win a gold medal. For the first time, the Olympic flag was raised to the top of the pole and the Olympic anthem played, but the world knew it represented the patriotism and passions of Kuwait.
Having competed for Kuwait in every Olympic Games since 1992, his gold was a long time in coming, but was just reward for Fehaid. He won a bronze medal for the men’s double trap shooting event at the 2000 Olympics, and won another bronze for the men’s Olympic trap shooting event at the 2012 Summer Olympics. At the 2016 Summer Olympics, Al-Deehani competed as an “independent Olympic athlete” because Kuwait was banned from the Olympics by the IOC.
Athens 2004 and London 2012 had seen Fehaid proudly carry the Kuwaiti flag during the opening ceremonies, but he refused to carry the Olympic flag in the opening of the 2016 Games. A Kuwait army officer, he felt compelled to turn down the request. “I am a military man and I will only carry the Kuwait flag,” he said. “I cannot carry the IOC flag.”
A trap shooter, he competes in one of the three major disciplines of competitive clay pigeon shooting. In trap shooting, the targets are launched from a single “house” or machine, generally away from the shooter.
Al-Deehani defeated Italian Marco Innocenti in the gold medal match of the men’s double trap, becoming the first independent athlete to win a gold medal. Ever passionate, Al-Deehani led the semi-final the whole way, and when he made the gold medal match while the rest of the field was still to be determined, his celebration caused a distraction. He was subsequently given a yellow card for his actions.
This now-legend of Olympic shooting traces his love of the sport back to the age of 16. It became a singular focus during his years at Military College, and all his free time was spent at the Hunting and Equestrian Club, honing his skills.
Being a professional soldier, it may be easy to imagine that his life is spent with a gun in his hands. Not at all. Although sports shooting was his priority, he still had to balance this between his job too.
His sport is the ultimate triumph of mind and body working together as one. Training on the shooting range is only part of it – he spends three hours a day in the gym focusing on cardio and fitness exercises.
The path to gold is one he has been travelling for decades. It entails a long history of hard work, exhaustion, victory and defeat. It’s also enabled him to build many friendships around the world. Every challenge has helped form inside him a permanent quest for excellence.
Successful by any measure, he still endures every athlete’s biggest stresses – largely the fear of failure. To mitigate this, he analyses every game, and knows that to continue to succeed he must be his own harshest critic.
Now aged 50, one can see his first Olympic gold as being a springboard to further success. Part of his plans for the future include establishing an elite shooting academy – one where the next generation of Kuwaitis can train and be trained, in the hope that in one four-year cycle in the not too distant future, we will all see Kuwait’s flag run up to the top of the pole, and our anthem played.