“You pray for me,” says Olympian javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem as he is set to take the field at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. He is ready to play for the country despite the injury he is carrying and there are expectations of the nation that is desperately looking for good news.
In fact, at the Commonwealth Games, Arshad is going to compete in the final on the same date as he performed at the Tokyo Olympics on August 7, by the stroke of fate.
Arshad has been the most fascinating case for Pakistan, a country that does not work on their track and field athletes.
In Birmingham, he is competing with the taping and bracing to protect his long-standing elbow injury and now a crucial knee injury as well.
He made history just before arriving in England in the last week of July by reaching the World Athletics Championships final in Eugene, Oregon, where he finished as the fifth best thrower in the world with 86.16 metres despite an elbow injury on his international comeback after the Olympics.
The 25-year-old managed his third best throw of the career in the US despite the odds.
The elbow injury had been troubling Arshad even before the Tokyo Olympics, while he sustained a knee injury three to two and a half months ago while attempting a jump during the training.
“Yes, they [the injuries] are with me in this, it is all going on simultaneously, so please pray for me,” Arshad told The Express Tribune on Sunday when inquired about his training and how his injuries are affecting him at the moment, while he was preparing for the event in the evening.
Arshad says that his goal is to make sure that he is giving his best in the given circumstance and he is not looking at other competitors now.
Arshad was trained in South Africa for two months by top coach Terseus Liebenberg but returned to Lahore where he trained with Salman Butt before leaving for the US for the World Championships.
However, the South Asian Games gold medallist performed without either of his coaches in Oregon and he will have to compete in the Commonwealth Games without them again.
August is Arshad's month
August has been Arshad’s month since 2018 when he became the first athlete from Pakistan in almost three decades to win a medal in track and field. He later became the first Pakistani to directly qualify for the Olympics in athletics at the South Asian Games in 2019 with 86.29m, and everything changed for the sports landscape of the country.
There is a sense of déjà vu from 2021 as the Olympics final was taking place around the same time, but Arshad has grown since, with the World Athletics Championships’ experience also under his belt. He is more mature in his approach to the sport as well, not succumbing to the toxicity of the competition but rather finding peace in doing his best.
“I am only focusing on my training and managing the injury that I have, but I am going to do my best,” said the father of two.
This will be Arshad’s second appearance at the Commonwealth Games. He finished in eighth place with a throw of 76.02m in Gold Coast but he had made the national record by qualifying for the finals with 80.45m.
Arshad’s personal best came in 2021 before the Olympics that was 86.38 metres in Mashhad, Iran, while he threw the spear at 84.62 metres at the Olympics.
While many are expecting the Commonwealth Games javelin throw event to be easier on Arshad in the absence of the defending champion and Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Neeraj Chopra, there is a stiff competition with Grenada’s Anderson Peters who won gold in Athletics Championships in Oregon, while Trinidad and Tobago's Keshorn Wallcot is also looking for the podium finish.
The event’s qualifying round in this edition of the games was not played due to the lesser number of entries.
Truth of the matter
Arshad’s physician during the preparation for Tokyo Olympics and the Pakistan Olympic Association's medical committee member Dr Asad Abbas said that the youngster from Mian Channu has sustained a soft tissue trauma injury in the knee, and that his elbow injury will have to receive invasive treatments.
The fact is that Arshad is not 100 percent fit but it is his commitment to the sport and Pakistan that has been pushing him to go for the medals.
He decided to wait for the World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Islamic Games to go for a surgery that is required for his elbow.
“The soft tissue trauma injury has to be managed and Arshad received injection and invasive treatments before as well, even before the Olympics when he picked the injury during training. What we do is we contain the area by taping and bracing so that it can heal, and the medicines help in pain management.
“Arshad is now 90% better, but he has been training and performing so the injured areas in the body tend to weaken over time and take longer to heal,” said Dr Abbas.
He has been looking after the Pakistani contingent on a voluntary basis, while Arshad is getting the treatment from a UK-based Dr Ali Bajwa.
Fighting against all odds
Dr Abbas said that Arshad’s physiotherapy and medical treatment have been working and he has trained well in the past few days with weightlifting during the sessions and exercising in the gym.
However, there is always a psychological factor that can play a part in crucial moments for athletes at an event.
“He is not 100 % fit, but he is almost there, his pain is 90 percent relieved and he is doing 90 percent better than before, but athletes protect their injured areas subconsciously while competing at the events. We are asking him how he is feeling and he has to report on how his body is responding,” said Dr Abbas who is a sports medicine specialist and has also worked in the field of psychology for the athletes.
Arshad has good facilities in the UK, but when he was training in Lahore he did not have a proper gym to train at either. His coach Salman would take him to Punjab University gym for training.
He is an exception who has inspired younger athletes like Shajar Abbas who ran 200m final for Pakistan in Birmingham and became the first sprinter to do so from the country.
“Arshad bhai has been an inspiration, he had also been helpful to me, he inquired about how I was doing and he has been a role model for me,” said Shajar, 22, who will be witnessing Arshad compete in the last events for Pakistan at the Games.
Meanwhile, Faiza Zafar and Amna Fayyaz defeated Canada’s Nicole Bunyan and Hollie Naughton 11-10, 11-8 in the semi-final of the squash plate competition.
They will play the final on the last day of the Games tomorrow against an Australian pair.
The plate competition is played among the players who lose their matches in the first round of the main draw. They get another chance to compete but the event does not offer any medal to the participant.
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