KARACHI : What happens when a labourer’s son goes to the Asian Games? He wins a bronze medal, Pakistan’s first in athletics in 24 years.
Arshad Nadeem’s medal at the Asian Games was a performance that very few would have foreseen, but the 21-year-old made sure that he made his point and took it as an opportunity to be on the podium that he missed during the Commonwealth Games earlier this year.
Nadeem took the bronze medal in Jakarta with an 80.75 metre mark, giving Pakistan their one of the four medals they bagged at the event, falling behind China’s Qizhen Liu and India’s Neeraj Chopra who got silver and gold medals, respectively.
The last time Pakistan won a medal in an Asian games athletics event was in 1994 when Aaqarab Abbas took a bronze in the hammer throw event and since then the country has been unable to produce any talent in athletics.
“I was very happy when I got that medal after so many years. I knew how important it was for me to win it, for Pakistan to get it,” Nadeem told The Express Tribune from his village in Khanewal, Mian Chunnun, where he grew up and mostly looked to make through with cricket before he got introduced to athletics as a teenager.
“I just want to thank my coach Fiaz Bokhari, basically he was the one who spotted me first. I had seen athletics event taking place at local level and I got interested, I participated in it during the school and college years. Bokhari was the first one to see the talent in me and convinced others of it,” he added.
But Asian Games’ medal has been a miracle as Nadeem only had a month and 10 days to prepare for the event exclusively, while before that he was nursing an injury that he picked at the Commonwealth Games this year.
“I feel I would have given this joy to the nation before too, at the Commonwealth Games,” said Nadeem. “I finished eight, in fact I fell short in the semi-finals, but that was the hurt that I took to my heart. I wanted to be in the finals, to get that medal. I feel it was that thirst that pushed me through at the Asian Games.”
The youngster feels that the greatest joy for him was returning home after the Games and seeing the joy and passion in his village.
“I knew even when I was at the Games that people back home are praying for me,” said Nadeem. “They were more passionate about my participation then I was. I knew I wasn’t alone in this when I was in Jakarta. That moment at the podium was a shared joy, even with Chopra who was very encouraging to me, and I loved his performance too.”
Naddem represents Wapda at the national level now, where he got inducted in 2015, however, the journey before that was not easy.
Cricket didn’t cut it
Nadeem is one of a kind, a more unique athlete and he proved it at a young age when he chose to switch to athletics from Pakistan’s most promoted and popular sport, cricket.
He says he knew he had found his calling, despite playing cricket at younger age for his school.
“I was a good cricketer,” said Nadeem. “At the age-level competitions I played for my school, I was very passionate too, but then it all started to change. Bokhari asked me to train for athletics and in 2012-2013, I even competed at the Punjab Youth Festivals in shotput, long jump and javelin throw events, where I won. That was when coach Rasheed Ahmed Bhatti spotted me and wrote to my school that I should train further and get to the city. It was difficult, I never had the resources to.”
But that letter and Bhatti’s wisdom helped Nadeem get to Wapda and things began to change as he competed at the National Championships in 2015.
“Getting the job at Wapda was possibly the best thing. I told my father that he doesn’t have to work as a labourer anymore,” said Nadeem. “Till 2016, I used to help him out in his day job as a labourer too, I did that, because we had too. The first thing I did was to just let my father know that he doesn’t need to live this way now; we didn’t have to struggle like that. I had a job at Wapda now.”
He even got a scholarship from International Association of athletics Federations to train for eight months in Mauritius at the High Performance Training Centre in 2016, but he returned to Pakistan after just 20 days as he started to fall ill there.
“It was a scholarship, but I came back, the setup there was not that great, and I would call people back home to help, so I was back in 20 days, I didn’t stay there for eight months,” explained Nadeem.
He adds that he wants to train abroad properly, because his ambitions are bigger than Asian Games now.
“I want to do something for my country,” said Nadeem. “It is just this urge that I have, I want to be somebody; I know I’ll do something for Pakistan, to make it proud. And that dream is leading me to Olympics.”
He explains that the target has become clearer for him after the Asian Games, and he has no doubt in his ability.
But to do that Nadeem will need to train abroad, he will need to be groomed by the Athletics Federation of Pakistan for the 2020 Olympics, and that Nadeem cannot do on his own without someone investing in him.
Pakistan Sports Board will announce reward money but that is not enough for the medal winners to thrive. What Nadeem now needs is a plan to work on his target for Olympics.
So the question is if a bright youngster like Nadeem can give Pakistan a medal at the Games after a 24-year drought, what will the Pakistan government and sponsors do for him?