Published September 10, 2023
Arshad Nadeem in action | AFP
Arshad Nadeem in action | AFP

Pakistan’s top javelin thrower, Arshad Nadeem, created history at the recent World Athletics Championships in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. His silver medal in javelin throw was Pakistan’s first medal in the history of the biennial track and field World Championships.

The 2023 edition had an estimated TV viewership of one billion people. A record total of 2,100 athletes from 195 countries competed in the Championships and were watched by more than 400,000 ticketed spectators from 120 countries. Arshad’s silver put Pakistan in the 27th position on the medals table.

It is arguably, one of Pakistan’s finest sports achievements of this century. We have no medals in hockey, neither the World Cup, nor the Olympics. In squash, no Pakistani has made it to the final of the World Open or the British Open. In cricket, too, there has been no appearance at any of the 50-over World Cup finals.

And it is in these times that the 26-year-old, 6’2” tall phenomenon from tehsil Mian Channu, in District Khanewal, appeared on the scene.

“I come from a humble rural background,” Arshad Nadeem tells Eos.

Eos meets up with star javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem for a brief tete-a-tete

“In school I even played cricket, like most boys. But I also indulged in other sports, such as kabaddi, football and, luckily, athletics. Ours is a farming family. I also worked in the wheat and cotton fields. But cricket is a time-consuming sport and affected my work on the farm.

“When I started excelling in throwing events at athletics, especially in javelin, my elder brother advised me to concentrate on athletics, as it consumed less time than when I played other sports,” he says.

And in javelin, Arshad won at every level — at the union council, at the tehsil, the district, the division and the province. When he became the national champion in 2015, Arshad was just 18.

“The same year, I was offered a job by Wapda, the top employer of sportspersons in Pakistan. Wapda looks after all sportspersons employed with them very well. I owe a lot to my Wapda coach Fayyaz Hussain Bukhari, who mentored me till the 2021 Olympics,” he says.

Coming on to the international scene, Arshad made an immediate impact there, starting out by winning bronze at the 2016 South Asian Games in the Indian city of Guwahati. At the 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games, his bronze was again Pakistan’s only individual medal in athletics.

His performance showed constant improvement. He was eighth at the 2018 Commonwealth Games with a 76.02 meters throw in the final, though he had gone up to 80.45 meters in the preliminaries. At the Asian Games the same year, he placed third, with a 80.75 meters throw. Then at the 2019 World Athletics Championships, he came 16th, with a 81.52 meters throw.

“My bronze at the 2018 Asian Games was Pakistan’s first medal in athletics at the Asiad since 1994. But my performance which attracted everyone came at the South Asian Games in December 2019, where I won the gold with a throw of 86.29 meters.

“It was not only a new Pakistan record, it also broke the South Asian Games’ record set by Neeraj Chopra, who was the Commonwealth and Asian Games champion and ranked fourth in the world at the time,” Arshad shares.

Thus, Arshad became the first Pakistani to gain direct qualification into the athletics competition of the Olympics ever since the minimum qualification standards were introduced a few decades ago.

But it wasn’t only qualification. Arshad was now a distinct medal prospect for the Tokyo Olympics. His winning throw at Kathmandu exceeded that of the silver medallist at the 2019 World Championships, just two months before. Having already realised the boy’s potential, the Athletics Federation of Pakistan had sent Arshad for six months’ training to Malaysia before the South Asian Games.

“I am greatly indebted to the president of the Athletics Federation of Pakistan, [Maj Gen, retd] Akram Sahi for arranging my training tours, despite meagre resources. Following the South Asian Games of 2019, I was in China for another month-long training,” he says.

Hence, Pakistan suddenly had hope for an Olympic medal. Its last medal at the Olympics was a bronze in 1992.

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which were held in 2021 due the Covid-19 pandemic, Arshad Nadeem made it to the final, where he finished fifth, the best position by a Pakistani ever in athletics at the Olympics.

Arshad’s own training was hampered because of the pandemic. “Had Covid not hindered training, the result at the Olympics could have been better. However, I hoped for a podium position at the 2022 World Athletics Championships, a year later,” he says.

Again, Arshad was unlucky. “Due to an elbow and knee injury, I couldn’t compete in any event till the World Championships in Eugene, USA, in July.” And there he was again the first Pakistani to appear in a final of any event. He again finished fifth.

“I was still carrying the injury. Since three mega events, the World Championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Islamic Solidarity Games, were scheduled in quick succession, I didn’t opt for surgery, because I aimed to do something for my country,” he says.

A fortnight later, Arshad had won the gold at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK. “It was my finest performance in many ways. It was also Pakistan’s first track and field gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 60 years, and a new games record with my best throw in any competition, of 90.18 metres,” he beams.

“Just five days later, I was throwing at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Konya, Turkey. The competition wasn’t as fierce, but the expectations put me under pressure. Alhamdulillah! I delivered, with gold.”

Finally, he went under the knife.

“In December 2022, in London, a renowned surgeon of Pakistani origin, Dr Ali Sher Bajwa, successfully operated on my knee, and a South African surgeon on my elbow. After spending one week in rehabilitation, I returned home, where I spent the rest of the rehabilitation period under coach Salman Butt’s guidance for eight to 10 weeks.

“The rest did me good. I felt fit and appeared at the national games in May 2023. My operated knee didn’t bother me, but then the other knee got injured,” says Arshad, who again went into rehab while having to skip the Asian Athletics Championship in mid-July.

“For one year, I had been thinking of the World Championships with the belief that the time had come to win a medal at the global level. But my injury made it doubtful,” he says.

Luckily, he got fit in time for the World Championships. The rest is history.

Arshad is full of praise for his current coach, Salman Iqbal Butt, a former national discus throw champion, who holds a master’s degree in physical education from an American university.

“Mr Salman’s contribution to my success is immense. He designs my training schedule. During the rehab period, he looked after me 24/7. He also keeps in touch with my former coaches in Germany and South Africa and utilises their input,” Arshad says.

Off the field, Arshad is very much a family man. He is married and greatly enjoys the company of his wife, daughter and son in Mian Channu.

Arshad’s massive achievements have fetched him good monetary rewards. For instance, the Commonwealth gold also earned him rewards such as Rs10 million from the Pakistan government, and his silver at the World Athletics Championship also carried a prize money of US$35,000. Wapda, too, awards him cash prizes for every international medal. The private sector has also acknowledged the country’s finest sportsperson of the day. The tall and handsome superstar has also done some commercials.

Arshad is also currently training in earnest in Lahore for the upcoming Asian Games, which commence from the 23rd of this month. The entire country wishes him the best.

The writer is a freelance sports journalist based in Lahore.
He can be reached at
X: @IjazChaudhry1

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 10th, 2023



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