KARACHI: The nerves had kicked in for Arshad Nadeem as he headed for his second throw of the javelin qualifying round at the World Athletics Championships on Friday.
It was quite understandable. After all, Arshad was making his first appearance at an international competition after a year in which he had elbow and knee surgeries and extensive rehabilitation to be back on the biggest stage.
Arshad had a poor first throw by his high standards, the javelin only travelling 70.63 metres. With the qualifying bar set at 83m, Arshad knew he had to do better.
In the run-up to his second attempt, Arshad stopped midway and turned back. Regaining the focus, he set himself up to retake it. He did much better, this time reaching a distance of 81.53m.
His spirits were back up and with his third throw, Arshad found his usual high range. It measured 86.79m — the second-best throw across two qualifying groups — and it not only took him to Sunday’s final but also secured him a spot in next year’s Paris Olympics.
Back among the world’s elite, and close to the top. That’s where Arshad, who crossed the 90m mark to win gold medal at last year’s Commonwealth Games, has proved he belongs. And now he’s reaching the same levels after a year-long layoff.
“Those thoughts never leave you … especially after the year I’ve had,” Arshad told Dawn from Budapest, reflecting on his time-out from the game.
“The injury, the surgery and the fact that the spikes weren’t gripping that well were on my mind. That’s why I stopped in the lead-up to my second throw.
“When you’ve come back from an injury, you want to be careful and risk another one when there is so much on the line. I told myself to focus on the throw and that’s how I got things back on track.”
On his third attempt, Arshad raised his hands in celebration as soon as he released the javelin. “You have that feeling that this one is going to travel,” he said. “I knew I’d done enough.”
Arshad only came second-best to India’s Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra, who threw the spear 88.77m. Chopra was in the other qualification group but the duo will come face-to-face in the final.
The duo have shared a close bond since the two first competed against each other at the 2016 South Asian Games. They met before the qualifying session as well as after it on Friday.
“We were both quite happy that we’d done well,” Arshad informed.
“The very fact that we’ve taken Pakistan and India to the top of world javelin makes us quite proud.”
Arshad, however, knows that he has a task on his hands to beat Chopra in the final and he is looking to conjure his heroics from last year’s Commonwealth Games staged in Birmingham.
“If you’ve crossed the 90m mark in your career, you’re seen as one of the favourites,” he said. “My morale is high, I’ve done my training for this event. Now all I need is the prayers of the nation.”
Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2023