The opening ceremony of the London Olympics rolled back the years for Shabana Akhtar who, in 1996, became Pakistan’s first female athlete to take part in the global event.
She competed in the long jump event, a best of 5.85m, but while she termed her show as a huge setback because of rain, being present among the best made her participation the ‘best moment’ of her life.
“I have an emotional attachment with the Olympics and I’m feeling younger now because it feels like I’ll be taking on the tracks in London,” Shabana told The Express Tribune before revealing that her ambition to go to London was cut short by financial issues. She would, however, be glued to her TV screen, not wanting to miss out on the action.
“There just cannot be an occasion bigger than the Olympics for an athlete. The whole world is focused on the mega event.” Shabana recalled the immense pressure on her for that precise reason and the record she had made.
“The heavy downpour made it more difficult for me. My personal best was a 6.31m which was a SAF Games record. However, in the end, I was pleased with my effort in Atlanta.”
Shabana rued the fact that she was never sent abroad for training otherwise she could have even gone onto register 6.70m or above, making her a strong contender for honours on the international front. However, as with most performing athletes in Pakistan, the Gunjrawala-based Shabana did not get any financial reward or support from the government.
“I ruled in the sport for nearly a decade in the country but never received a single penny despite winning gold medals internationally. Even today, I live in a rented place and that hurts because I gave so much for my country but didn’t get a penny in return. All my records went in vain, it seems.”
She revealed that there were several offers from other countries for her as coach but she rejected them because she ‘loved her country a lot’ but could not forget the feeling of being neglected.
“Nasim Hameed got awards and benefitted from a financial boost for her feats in the Saf Games and instead of working harder to bring more laurels for Pakistan, she ran away from the game.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2012.
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