“I’ll be going as the first weightlifter at the Olympics in 46 years from Pakistan, it is a dream come true,” Talha Talib, country’s top weightlifter with most national records and now being selected to represent Pakistan at the Tokyo Olympics, is a picture of patience and grace in the face of adversity.
“It is all worth celebration, but I just want to add that I will not have place to train right after the Olympics. I don’t have the equipment either. I’m worried what would happen after the hype and the Olympics,” Talha tells The Express Tribune, adding how excited he is, how making the country proud is his dream and he is grateful for his family, the club and the opportunity at the moment.
The precocious youth that he is, he adds, “Of course my focus is just the training and doing the best I can at the Games. I’m confident with that.”
The 21-year-old Commonwealth Games medallist is based in Gujranwala, which he describes as being more than home. He loves his community that has been a part of his journey into becoming the top weightlifter of the country. Meanwhile, Talha has been working day and night with his father, who was also an Asian medallist in powerlifting and a former weightlifter.
For Talha the invitation to Olympics has been a sign that hard work pays off. Talha had to miss international events despite the Pakistan Weightlifting Federation’s (PWF) efforts, and due to the general failure and complacency of the government policies towards sports community, while the ignorance of the corporate sector also adds to the pain.
Talha has been working most of his life trying to directly qualify for the Olympics, but due to the lack of the resources to even participate in international events like other weightlifters of his calibre do, he had to sit the major events out. However, the Pakistan Olympic Association made sure that he gets the accreditation like other prospective athletes for the Games do, and finally the sigh of relief came with the announcement that the Asian bronze medallist is chosen to go to Olympics through the invitational spot, to make his Olympic debut.
“Accepting the request of NOC Pakistan, the International Olympic Committee has confirmed that the Olympic Games Tripartite Commission has finalized the Invitation Places in collaboration with International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and Mr Talha Talib has succeeded to secure the Invitation place in -67kg in Weightlifting for Tokyo 2020,” the POA press statement read on Friday, as the President POA Lt Gen (R) Syed Arif Hasan also congratulated the South Asian Games gold medallist on the achievement.
Celebrate the athletes but fulfil their needs
Talha’s achievements are a long list including medals in Commonwealth Games and Commonwealth Championships, South Asian Games. He won gold at the International Solidarity Weightlifting Championship with the last outing being Asian Championships in Tashkent, where he totalled 315 kg. He won bronze for the best total in snatch that was 148, while his clean and jerk was 167 kg along with the snatch result.
But he achieved all of that without the standard equipment and a proper gym, however, training in a local private school has gained Talha younger fans, but he explained that he was given a notice of three months, and he needs to vacate the space and all the goodness it had.
“I have been training very hard for the Olympics. I really have given my all, my club, my family, and for the last three years I have been training at my home-town, this school. They voluntarily gave me the place to train that we converted into a gym for me, but now they are telling me that they would need the place to start something else. You see, Covid-19 has really hit their finances badly too, and I have been preparing on self-help basis with the help of the PWF, but now I don’t know where I will train after the Olympics.
“I don’t even have the standard equipment really, and so far I can say that this is all but a result of faith in Allah and that good things come to people who persevere,” said Talha, albeit hesitantly as he has seen his father run after the officials of the government to just allot a place for Talha to train at or provide just the standard equipment to train for the Olympics. Talha feels shy and even admits that sometimes he feels that the words are a waste, however, going to the Olympics may highlight this problem and lead to the solution.
The cost of his equipment is not too much either but clearly seems impossible for a country that do not have their priorities straight.
“The equipment will cost Rs1 million at best. We can ship it from Sweden if the government can help. I even won an online competition last year where they gave me the bar. They were impressed that I even entered, given I am a national athlete with international medals,” said Talha. “I have seen my father even request the government through the citizen’s portal, but it seems they don’t have enough time for the athletes who have won medals for Pakistan.”
“Train according to prayers”
With faith being a driving force, Talha trains at least five to six hours a day, and the timings he distributed before going to Tashkent for the Asian Championships too, were divided according to the prayers.
“I would time my sessions with the prayers. I lie to pray tahajjud, the late night prayer. Then after fajr I start out early in the day and then so on. This is an important part of training for me. It motivates me greatly and keeps me in a positive mind-set,” said Talha, who has observed isolation after the last letter and is now happy with getting the vaccination prior to the Olympics.
“I’m not nervous at all. I just focus on lifting weights really. I haven’t changed my training schedule drastically because I don’t give up hope easily, so I’m all prepared,” said Talha who feels that the greatest competition will come from Chinese competitors in his category along with Uzbekistan, Italy and Colombia.
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