KARACHI/LAHORE: Arshad Nadeem had an unwavering conviction coursing through his veins in Birmingham on Sunday evening that no matter what the other competitors did, no matter what the state of his injured elbow would be, he would be the one with the gold medal across his neck.
And since his record-breaking throw of 90.18 metres in the javelin final of the Commonwealth Games brought Pakistan’s first track and field medal at the quadrennial spectacle in 56 years, everything’s been a rush for him.
It’s understandable. Pakistan’s wait for an athletics gold has been even longer. Before Sunday, the last time the country’s flag was raised; the national anthem played at the track and field venue for the Commonwealth Games was 60 years ago.
Arshad, who improved on his personal best three times during the session, was in tears after his victory but had a wide grin as the rendition of the national anthem came to an end — the medal he’d so longed for, and promised he’d deliver, draped around his neck.
Longing for another gold
Once off the podium, it was time for his dope test. Once done with giving his sample, it was almost midnight.
Monday was time to pack all the stuff and catch a flight to Turkiye, where Arshad is looking forward to another gold at the Islamic Solidarity Games.
“Just another day in an athlete’s jet-set life,” Arshad told Dawn in an interview while rushing to the airport, already running late to his flight for Konya.
Arshad had arrived in England after competing at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon where he finished fifth. His first stop was the Cambridge University where Dr Ali Sher Bajwa checked his elbow injury. He wasn’t a part of the Pakistan contingent’s march at the opening ceremony and was flying out well before the start of Monday’s closing ceremony.
“I’ve got the gold and that’s what matters most to me,” said Arshad.
What’s more remarkable about Arshad’s victory in Birmingham is that he didn’t have his coach with him. Salman Butt was watching Arshad perform on television after he couldn’t get his accreditation made in time.
It wasn’t a surprise for Salman that Arshad became the first javelin thrower from South Asia to cross the 90-metre barrier.
“He can do even better,” Salman told Dawn on Monday. “I was convinced he could do it.”
Arshad too believed. “I wasn’t going to give up without a fight … I knew I would win.”
Arshad had led the contest for the longest time, but it seemed Grenadian world champion Anderson Peters had turned the contest on its head when he launched the javelin to 88.64 metres with his penultimate throw. But Arshad hit back immediately with a throw that set the Games record and sealed the gold medal.
That sparked wild celebrations across the country, but the loudest ones were in Arshad’s hometown of Mian Chunnu where family members had all gathered around a television set.
“It was a great moment for the family,” his brother Aleem Arshad told Dawn. “At the same time, we were concerned about how his heavily-strapped elbow was holding up.”
Arshad revealed that he was in a “lot of pain but the desire to win meant all the pain was forgotten.”
He, however, realises that he can’t carry on with his elbow pain for long if he’s to fulfil his lofty ambitions.
“Dr Bajwa has had a good look at my elbow but hasn’t exactly told me what we need to do,” he said. “Once we’re done with the Islamic Games, we’ll start with the treatment.
“We have some time till next year’s Asian Games in China and I’m hoping that I’m pain-free for that as well as the 2024 Paris Olympics.”
Dr Bajwa termed Arshad’s victory “a miracle”.
“We will soon sit down with his coach [Salman] and the Athletics Federation of Pakistan to finalise a roadmap for his early recovery,” he told Dawn on Monday. “There is also an old knee problem which we’re looking at.”
Salman believes that once the injuries are treated, Arshad can improve his best distance “by a further five metres”.
Arshad, who finished fifth at last year’s Olympics in Tokyo, had a two-month training camp in South Africa under coach Terseus Liebenberg before competing at the world championships.
During his time in South Africa, Arshad met javelin world record holder Jan Zelenzy of Czech Republic, who threw the spear to a distance of 98.26 metres in 1996.
“The aim is to set the world record,” Arshad said. “Zelenzy told me to keep training hard and it will happen. I know I have the capacity to do that.”
Arshad’s mark at the Games was 39 centimetres short of the Olympic record set by Norwegian Andreas Thorkildsen in 2008 but much better than Neeraj Chopra’s winning effort of 87.86 metres in Tokyo.
India’s Chopra was ruled out of the Commonwealth Games due to injury, but he was quick to congratulate Arshad on social media with the duo sharing a friendly rivalry.
They have been competing against each other since 2016 and while Neeraj seemed to be a rung above Arshad, the Pakistani beating him to the 90m mark has raised hopes of a South Asian battle for supremacy at javelin’s top table in the years to come.
“It has set things up very nicely,” Arshad’s coach Salman said. “It’s going to be an interesting battle between them in the forthcoming events.”
Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2022