In Arshad Nadeem, India’s Neeraj Chopra will have tough competition for the gold medal at Paris Olympics, but the Pakistani ace says for now both are just “very happy” to call the shots in a sport once dominated by the Europeans.
In cricket-crazy Pakistan, Nadeem has become the toast of the nation after becoming its first athlete to win a medal at the World Athletics Championship. He bagged silver in the men’s javelin thrown final in Budapest on Sunday, as Olympic champion Chopra won the gold medal.
“Neeraj and I have a very healthy competition, and we respect each other a lot. There is no Pakistan-India rivalry. When we talk, we are just happy that both of us have come to the fore in a competition usually dominated by Europeans,” Nadeem told PTI.
It is not the first medal that Nadeem has brought home as last year he won gold in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games with a best throw of 90.18 metres.
According to Nadeem, the silver medal at the Worlds was very satisfying as he competed against Chopra, one of the best in recent years.
Chopra couldn’t compete in the Commonwealth Games because of a groin injury and Arshad ran away with the gold in a field dominated by European athletes.
After the final on Sunday, Chopra made it a point to invite his Pakistani rival to go on a victory lap.
“It is a very satisfying achievement for me to get a distance of 87.82 metres as I returned to international competition after nearly a year due to elbow surgery,” he said.
The rivalry between Chopra and Nadeem has now become a subject of discussion in the javelin fraternity.
Soon after Nadeem won the silver medal, there were calls on social media in Pakistan to ensure he is duly rewarded for his achievement, with the caretaker Prime Minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq-Kakar, being the first to congratulate him on his success.
For Nadeem, it has been a long journey from his village in Mian Chunnu in Pakistan’s Punjab province where his elder brothers and school’s sports master forced him to take up athletics.
“I wanted to be a cricketer but my brothers and sports master told me I had the physique and stamina to be a top athlete,” he said.
In his early days, he would sprint around 2-3 kilometres everyday from his village to school, something that helped him strengthened his body alongside the hard work he put in the fields with his brothers.
The sudden adulation has not affected Nadeem, as he remains focussed on his goal to win a gold medal in the Paris Games next year.
“I want to win an Olympic gold for my country. It will require a lot of hard work, training, and the best equipment, but now I know I am capable of doing well against the best.”
Like many of his contemporaries, Nadeem does not have access to top coaches, foreign training, or the best equipment. The Pakistan Athletics Federation, short on funds, does not have top-class training facilities for javelin throwers.
In such a scenario, Nadeem is grateful to his employee, Wapda, which has provided him with coaches and facilities to train.
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