Arshad Nadeem on Wednesday kept Pakistan’s hopes of its maiden medal at Tokyo Olympics alive as he went through to the final of the men’s javelin with a throw of 85.16 metres.
The feat made him the first Pakistani to qualify for the final of any track and field event at the Olympics.
Nadeem’s throw was third-best of the day behind India’s Neeraj Chopra (86.65m) and world leader Germany’s Johannes Vetter (85.64m).
The 24-year-old thrower from Khanewal finished above Germany’s Julian Weber and Czech’s Jakub Vadlejch to win his group and a place in the medal round — a performance that got his coach out of his seat applauding.
Nadeem 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.
Speaking to the media after qualifying for the final, Nadeem said he was thankful for the support given to him by Pakistanis. He also appealed to the nation for more prayers so that he can given a stellar performance in the final.
The athlete also thanked his coach for his tireless efforts in training him for the Olympics. “We will keep performing like this,” he said, ending with an emphatic “Pakistan Zindabad”.
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.
Nadeem has a personal-best throw of 86.38m, which he achieved in April during his gold medal run at the Imam Raza Athletics Cup in Iran.
He is one of the few Pakistani athletes to secure direct qualification for Olympics, thanks to his gold medal-winning throw at South Asian Games in December 2019.
Exceptional athlete Mian Channu’s Arshad Nadeem was an exceptionally versatile athlete in his early school years.
Though he dabbled in all the sports on offer in his school — cricket, badminton, football and athletics — his passion was cricket and he soon found himself playing it at district-level tape-ball tournaments.
Upon entering grade seven in school, Arshad caught the eye of Rasheed Ahmad Saqi during an athletics competition. “One day, I received a letter in school and thought I’d secured a job,” he says. “It was from Rasheed sahib.
He had asked me to meet him, and soon took me under his apprenticeship. He had a history of developing sportspeople in the division and I was very proud to be training under him.”
But after a couple of years, Arshad had to choose between cricket and athletics. The third oldest among five brothers, Arshad took inspiration from his elder brothers, both of whom were athletes at the divisional level, and decided to pursue athletics after a thorough discussion with his coach.
“Leaving cricket behind was not easy, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. My father was a labourer, we didn’t have the required resources or contacts to make it pro in cricket.
My school’s PT [physical training] teachers Ajmal and Zafar looked after me well and helped me adjust to the change.”
Arshad then pursued shot-put and discus and javelin throw in athletics. But in the coming years, he also dropped discus and shot-put and began to focus solely on javelin.
Gold medals in successive Punjab Youth Festivals and an inter-board meet propelled him on to the national stage, bringing offers from all the leading domestic athletics teams, including Army, Air Force and Wapda.
The 2015 National Championships were just around the corner, so Arshad had to decide quickly. “Rasheed sahib had been a father figure to me, he had always helped me with key decisions.
Naturally, I went to him to help me decide. However, before we had decided, the championships were delayed.
The inter-department championships of Wapda were coming up next and I decided to appear in their trials,” Arshad says.—Agencies