LAHORE: He made history for the country at the 2020 Olympics where he reached with his efforts, not as a wild card. Having earned a commendable fifth spot in the Tokyo final featuring the world’s elite javelin throwers, Arshad Nadeem is thinking not just about himself but Pakistan’s future in the sport as well.
And the promising 25-year-old reckons the country has all the talent to become a major international competitor in javelin throw provided the government patronises the aspiring athletes.
“Pakistan has the best talent to do wonders in this sport where 23 gold medals [in international contests] are up for grabs. I know currently at least 10 male and female athletes are there in the country who can earn medals at the international level but significant lack of proper training facilities is a major hurdle for them in this regard. If the government sets up a special academy for athletes [javelin throwers] to be run under top coaches and trainers, the country can make inroads at the international level,” said Arshad in an exclusive interview with Dawn on Thursday.
The Khanewal-born player, who threw the javelin at a distance of 84.62 metres in the Tokyo final, was the very first Pakistani track-and-field athlete to have directly qualified for Olympics, now looks forward to progressing in the sport further.
He and Yasir, another upcoming javelin thrower, are now getting ready for a six-month trip to South Africa where the duo will train for a number of major international contests scheduled for 2022.
“Several major international events in 2022, including the World Championship, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, await us. To be better prepared for these top-level contests, I and Yasir are going to South Africa for training,” said Arshad who represents Wapda at domestic-level contests.
The World Athletics Championships are being held in Eugene, US from July 15 to 24, Commonwealth Games are being staged in Birmingham from July 28 to Aug 8 while the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China from Sept 10 to 25.
“We have applied for the visa and after receiving it we will soon leave for South Africa, most probably next week,” Arshad, who belongs to a small town of Mian Channu, a tehsil of Khanewal District, said.
Yasir is from Lahore and recently he won a number of titles at junior level and is now emerging up as a senior competitor.
According to Yasir, currently he was throwing the javelin at a distance of 76.00 metres plus but hoped that the training in South Africa would prove a great opportunity for him to grow and improve on this.
Arshad, who achieved a South Asian Games record 86.29 metres to clinch gold medal at the 2019 edition held in Kathmandu and as a result directly qualified for Tokyo 2020, said during this short training camp in Lahore he was working on fitness, and not on throw.
“Our foreign coach has sent us a training schedule and we both are following it to keep ourselves fit before joining the academy in South Africa,” he said.
After starting his career in 2015, Arshad won bronze medal (76.33 metres) at the 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku. In 2018, he set a new personal best of 80.45 metres in the qualification round at the Commonwealth Games held in Gold Coast, Australia. In August the same year, he won bronze at the Asian Games in Jakarta, where he set a new personal best and national record of 80.75 metres.
As the only Pakistani athlete at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Arshad achieved a new personal best and national record of 81.52 metres. Later in 2019, he set a national record (83.65 metres) to claim gold for Wapda at the 33rd National Games in Peshawar.
Arshad said he had learnt from his mistakes and would try to remove those in South Africa.
“I also feel that I have been throwing the javelin a few [extra] steps before the line instead of coming closer to it,” he said.
While seeking to secure gold medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games, the promising Pakistan athlete also dispelled the impression that he was specifically eyeing India’s Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Neeraj Chopra as his main rival.
“I always consider that my competition is against myself. I have to give my best and I have to go up from my last best of 86.29 metres. I do not target any other as a rival,” Arshad underlined.
He added, “Neeraj is training in the US nowadays as he always has the opportunity to train abroad.”
Meanwhile, Arshad’s coach Fayyaz Hussain Bukhari is currently not working on the athlete. Salman Iqbal Butt, another renowned Pakistan athlete and coach, is handling Arshad’s training camp in Lahore.
While Arshad did not comment over Fayyaz’s replacement, Salman said now Arshad required a higher level of coaching to get himself better prepared for the 2024 Olympics.
“Terseus Liebenberg, one of the world’s best athletics coach who is of German origin, now settled in South Africa, has been hired for training Arshad and Yasir on modern lines,” Salman told Dawn.
“Fayyaz did a great job with Arshad but now the athlete needs higher-level training.”
According to Salman, this short training camp in Lahore was being held with the cooperation of the federal government.
However, he added that the Athletics Federation of Pakistan (AFP) in collaboration with a sponsor is sending Arshad and Yasir to South Africa. “Around Rs20 million is being spent on this tour,” Salman said. “A request has also been made to the federal government for some [financial] assistance [in this regard].”
Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2022