Arshad Nadeem originally aspired to be a professional cricketer, but after switching to athletics, he now has a chance to win Pakistan’s first individual Olympic gold in almost 30 years.
“Right now there is a chance for me,” Nadeem told AFP as he prepared for next month’s Covid-delayed Tokyo Games.
“If I throw my best then, God willing, I will win a medal.”
Pakistan has won three gold, three silver, and two bronze medals in field hockey since the first Olympics in London in 1948.
Pakistan’s only individual Olympic medals are bronzes earned by wrestler Mohammad Bashir in Rome in 1960 and boxer Hussain Shah in Seoul in 1988.
Arshad Nadeem, on the other hand, owns the world’s sixth-highest javelin throw of the year, a personal best of 86.38 metres, set in April in Iran, where he was obliged to go in order to compete in the top-tier competition.
The muscular 24-year-old Nadeem, who gave up cricket to pursue athletics as a youngster, will encounter stiffer competition in Tokyo, but he is unfazed.
He stated after a training session in Lahore, “I don’t look at any of the other javelin throwers… I don’t concentrate on them.”
“I focus on myself and how I throw and I try my best — and that is how God honours me.”
Nadeem has a taste for gold, having finished first at the South Asian Games in Nepal last year.
At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, he finished third behind gold medalist Neeraj Chopra of India, a farmer’s son who threw the third-longest distance this year.
It hasn’t been an easy road for Nadeem, who is 1.87 metres tall (six feet two inches) and hails from a hamlet in Punjab’s wheat and cotton-growing region.
He had little time for his first passion, cricket, since his kids and daughters were forced to work early, and facilities and adequate instruction were limited.
Despite the challenges, Arshad Nadeem performed well as an all-rounder. He said, “I was good.”
“There was a chance for me to be part of the national team, but conditions were such that I couldn’t do it.”
Nadeem switched to athletics, which required less time than days-long cricket matches, on the suggestion of a brother, and tried his hand at a number of activities.
“There was shot put, javelin, discus, hammer, long jump, high jump and triple jump,” he said.
“I even ran in the 100 metres, 200 metres and relay — and thankfully I won about seven to nine events at divisional level.”
In 2015, Nadeem got his big break when he was hired by Pakistan’s water and power board, a government agency with a little budget for developing athletic talent.
Coach Fayaz Hussain Bukhari took him under his wing there.
“He threw well so we gave him a job,” said Bukhari, who has been Nadeem’s coach ever since.
Still, in order to create a world-class athlete, compromises had to be made, not least in terms of nutrition.
“Yes, food is a big problem… But that is something that needs to be dealt with as part of life,” he said.
Getting Nadeem in the best shape for the Games, according to Bukhari, was tough during the epidemic.
“Training is the real challenge. He sat at home for a year because of corona,” said the coach.
“All the gyms and stadiums were closed. I had to work him hard to bring him to a point where he could compete and win again.”
Arshad Nadeem was a brilliant student, according to Bukhari, who is paid only 15,000 rupees a month (about $100) to care about his charge.
“He trains well and is a good learner,” he said, adding: “We are going to do our best, and the rest is in God’s hands.”
Whatever the outcome in Tokyo, Nadeem knows he can rely on his family and neighbours for support.
“We have a small village which has become famous not just in all of Pakistan but the entire world because of Arshad Nadeem,” he said.
“They are very happy.”