“Everyone in my village is happy. They said they will come to receive me at the airport when I get back,” said Pakistani javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem with less than 100 days to Tokyo Olympics. “I asked them why this time? You never say that. They told me that they want to celebrate my big return with that gold medal in Iran. But I have won gold medals before too.”
The youngster from Mian Chunnu, the only athlete from Pakistan to ever qualify directly for the Olympics, is now making sure that his comeback to international circuit is successful after almost a year and a half, and it is no coincidence.
Arshad broke the record at the World Athletics-approved Mashhad Imam Reza Athletics Tournament in Iran, while improving his personal best at the international arena from 86.29 metres to 86.38 metres. He did all this despite spending the entire 2020 at home in Khanewal, training on his own, with the instruction of his coach Fiaz Bokhari on the phone.
The gold medal in Iran, where he said he was dearly celebrated by the local fans, is a result of just three months of proper training.
“It felt like I am improving and I am getting better. That gold medal felt really good,” Arshad told The Express Tribune. “I recorded the best distance and set the record for the Imam Reza Tournament too, it was the best throw even from their national standard. They were very happy to see my first throw too which was 78.85 metres.
‘The people in Iran who were present at the venue and the officials from other countries were cheering for me. They were really happy. They were surprised too that a track and field athlete from Pakistan can give this kind of results. They seemed genuinely encouraging and that meant so much.
“I later told them that I have qualified for the Olympics and they were very impressed and happy. I felt appreciated and loved.”
Arshad’s journey had been a fascinating one, with him initially wanting to be a cricketer but then he chose to pick track and field as the place for his talent to excel. The Asian Games bronze medallist feels his achievements are more celebrated abroad, because in Pakistan only cricket matters.
The iconic image of Arshad with his counterpart from India Neeraj Chopra made rounds in 2018 where they were seen congratulating each other, but when asked if Arshad believes that the investment for his Olympic journey and the sponsorships as well as the amount of resources put into his campaign are enough, he feels that the biggest chunk of attention that Pakistanis put is on cricket.
“In Pakistan everything starts with cricket and ends with it, whether it is athletics, football or any other sport. I do feel that I am more encouraged and receive more attention abroad. They really see what the results have been. In Pakistan that is not the case.
“I wanted to be a cricketer when I was young, but now I can say I don’t like cricket as much. There is too much that goes into me coming to this conclusion, but mostly it is because our people don’t know anything else.
“The cricketers get more attention and rewardsfor doing much less than we do, in terms of performance and achievement internationally, but no one cares about us.”
Arshad wants to return from Tokyo with a medaland that is a dream he is not compromising on. He is in Turkey training with Kazakhstan’s Viktor Yevsyukov till May 1. The training has been arranged by the Athletics Federation of Pakistan.
The training sessions began on Thursday and Arshad was satisfied with the facilities in Antalya.
“I don’t think about it much, what I get out of it. I never think if I am getting enough attention or rewards. It is more about how much I can give and I’ll give my all just to see that Pakistani flag raised up in the air. My target is just making sure that I raise that flag high.
“My training here will help and I can only say that coming here, at the back of a gold medal, has really buildup my expectations further for the Olympic medal, “said Arshad.
He explains why calling back home has been more of a joy now for him, because when he will get back in May, his people understand the hopes and dreams that he is carrying.
“Everyone at home is happy. I know this medal [in Iran] is a sign. They loved the result and congratulated me, because they understand that I have improvedand it meant so much for me.
“When I asked why would they want to receive me at the airport this time, when they never did before, they said because I won a gold medal. When I pointed out that I have won gold medals before too, they said this time it meant more because I couldn’t train as much and still I kept improving and did not give up,” noted exceedingly humbled Arshad.
In December 2019 at the South Asian Games, where he not only created a new record for the best throw with 86.29 m, he also became the first one from Pakistan to fulfill the javelin throw criteria for the Olympics 85m in men’s discipline.