TOKYO: Arshad Nadeem had fallen short of the qualifying mark with his first throw of the javelin at the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday.
A throw over 83.50 metres would’ve seen him become the first track and field athlete from Pakistan to qualify for a final at the Olympics but Arshad could only get to 78.50.
Perhaps, he was only warming up. Perhaps, it was the nerves. After all, it was the first Games for Arshad, who is the country’s first track and field athlete to qualify directly to the Olympics.
Arshad regrouped. The 24-year-old looked more assured as he went for his second throw. And with it, he made history.
The run-up was steady, before the stutter as he prepared to launch the javelin. Then came a loud roar, which echoed around the empty venue, as he released it.
As it went past 85 metres circle — 85.16 to be precise — his coach, Fayyaz Hussain Bokhari jumped out of his seat to applaud. It saw him win his qualifying Group ‘B’ ahead of Czech Jakub Vadlejch (84.93m) and Germany’s Julius Weber (84.41m).
Arshad raised his arms and let out a roar of joy. He knew he’d made to the Saturday’s final, where he will look to win Pakistan’s first athletics medal at the Games, and a first medal in any sport since 1992.
“I’m thankful to the Almighty, thankful to the nation which prayed for me,” Arshad said afterwards. “I’ve worked really hard for this moment and I’d request for more prayers so that I can raise the country’s flag at the final.”
In the final, Arshad will come up against Commonwealth champion Neeraj Chopra of India, who took gold ahead of him at the Asian Games in 2018.
Chopra went through to the final with his first throw of the morning at 86.65m to top qualifying Group ‘A’.
“I am at my first Olympic Games, and I feel very good. In warm-up my performance wasn’t so good, but then [in the qualifying round] my first throw had a good angle, and was a perfect throw,” Chopra said after his performance.
World leader Johannes Vetter of Germany also advanced, struggling in his first two throws before crossing the automatic qualification mark with a 85.64m final throw.
They will be joined by Finland’s Lassi Eteltalo, whose first attempt of 84.50m, a season’s best, granted him passage to the medal round.
The 2012 Olympic champion and bronze medallist five years ago in Rio, Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago failed to advance, as he fell short with a throw of 79.33m.
Taiwan’s Cheng Chao-tsun, one of only 20 javelin throwers in history to crack the 90-metre barrier, also fell short in his bid to reach the final along with Kenyan former world champion Julius Yego.
Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2021