KARACHI: Pakistan's wild card sprinter Liaquat Ali dreams of racing against Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay, hoping to give the world's fastest men a run for their money at the London Olympics.
"I wish I get a chance in the same heat as Bolt or Gay, it's one of my main dreams," said the 27-year-old who stands little chance of clearing the first heat in a galaxy of world class sprinters.
Ali achieved Pakistan's record of 10.10 seconds last year – a far cry from the world record of 9.58 seconds set by Jamaica's Bolt at the World Athletics championship in Germany in August 2009, and the 9.69 achieved by the United States' Gay a month later.
"I like Gay's style of running and that's why he is my favourite," said Ali, who remembers meeting the US star at the 2009 World meet, where he finished 61st in the heats, clocking a disappointing 10.64 seconds.
Ali, who comes from the small town of Renala Khurd in central Punjab province and who is a soldier in the army's sports department, says champions live in a different world.
"They are world class simply because their training and facilities are high class and we cannot match them," said Ali.
"I get the basic facilities but it's tough for others," he added.
Beating the odds, Ali won silver in the 100m relay at the South Asian Athletics Championship in India in 2008 and bronze in the 100 and 200 metres at the South Asian Federation Games in Dhaka two years ago.
In the Asian championship in Japan last year he was disqualified after a false start.
Coach Maqsood Ahmed said Ali can better his national record at the Olympics.
"Ali has done real hard work to get ready for the Olympics but realistically speaking the competition in the Olympics will be very tough, so the main aim for him is to better the national record," said Ahmed.
Ali's other aim is to improve the image of Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed in May 2011 and where US officials say Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked extremists plot attacks in Afghanistan and against the West.
"When I go abroad people ask about Pakistan and our difficulties, but I always tell them our country is one of the best in the world and that they should come and see our lovely places and not fear," said Ali.
Pakistan is sending a 39-member contingent with 23 players and 16 officials to the Games but field hockey is their only chance of a medal.
Correction: Earlier, the article was incorrectly stating that Pakistan is sending 39 athletes to the Games instead of a "39-member contingent". The error has been rectified.