Nisar Ahmad, once hailed as India’s Usain Bolt, ready to sparkle again after setbacks

Sprinter Nisar Ahmad is training with vigour at the Chhatrasal Stadium in north Delhi and is eager to scorch the tracks as he once did.

Nisar Ahmad trains at the Chhatrasal stadium in Delhi on February 9. After two years of basking in the spotlight, the sprinter saw his career going off the rails a bit.   -  SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

February 2018 — a bunch of videos popped up on YouTube celebrating Delhi sprinter Nisar Ahmad, a few of those anointed him India's Usain Bolt.

The athlete’s backstory added to the glow of his success on the track. His father was a rickshaw puller and mother a domestic help. The family lived in a slum. Indians warmed up to the boy.

February 2022 — Nisar is resetting the starting blocks of his career after struggling to stamp his authority on the big stage.

Last year, Ahmad saw some of his well-known peers from other disciplines participate in the Tokyo Olympics. Not long ago, he had fancied a spot in the Indian contingent for the Olympics, but personal and career troubles had their say.

After two years of basking in the spotlight following a stunning victory the 100m in the inaugural edition of the Khelo India School Games in 2018, the sprinter saw his career going off the rails a bit.

“I was disappointed not to be part of the Olympics,” Ahmad tells Sportstar as he reflects on the tough period since his ascent to fame.

“Some of my friends from Youth Olympics in 2018 were there. Srihari Nataraj, the swimmer, who is my very good friend; and shooter Manu Bhaker, who is also a good friend (were there). I wasn’t happy that I got left behind.”

Budding superstar

Nisar was a budding superstar in 2017 and 2018, thanks to his impressive performances in Khelo India Games and other age-group competitions. His meteoric rise was a result of hard work and innate talent that had prompted his physical education teacher at a government school in Ashok Vihar to bring him to the Chhatrasal Stadium in north Delhi to get him enrolled there under expert coaches. He was just 11.

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He did measure up to the promise. In the Khelo India Games in 2018, he won gold in 100m, clocking 10.76 seconds. What made this even more impressive was that he ran the final twice in a span of 20 minutes. Earlier, he had failed to hear the recall whistle following a false start and had blazed through the entire race.

A trip to Jamaica to train alongside the likes of Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake followed. Times have changed a bit for Nisar, but he doesn’t want to linger on days past.

“Many athletes were motivated by me in those years, and many people came here to see me train as well. Many kids said, ‘We started to pursue sprint-running after watching your videos, and we also want to do something for our parents and our nation.’ I was happy to hear that.

“I won medals and broke records. But I have to leave that period behind and move ahead. I don’t want to restrict myself to just that much,” he says.

Golden year

2018 was indeed a golden year for Nisar. Besides tasting success in competitions, he made two foreign trips: to Kingston, Jamaica, for training, and to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to represent India in the Youth Olympics.

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“You will never come back from Jamaica empty-handed,” he says, still in love with the professionalism he experienced at the famed Racers Track Club.

“You’ll learn something or the other every time you visit the training centre. The coaches there are open minded. They are quite supportive. They are also pretty knowledgeable about the science of sprinting: when to take rest, how to prepare for a race, etc. Here in India, I haven’t seen any coach possess the attributes that the coaches in Jamaica have,” he says.

The Jamaica trip was expensive, made possible by help from the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL). The public sector enterprise organises camps for athletes at various locations in India, and Nisar gets his training gear, too, from it. He is also helped by the Adani Group in the form of a regular stipend. Support from the Reservation Fitness Group has helped him bring his family from the slum to a flat in Ashok Vihar in north-west Delhi.

He also got a grant of ₹16 lakh from the Delhi government in 2018 under a scheme named Mission Excellence.

Setback

The situation changed a bit in 2019. Although Nisar’s career hadn’t hit a roadblock, he was no longer the toast of the nation when it emerged he had failed an age-verification test in the National Youth Championships in Raipur, in February, 2019.

He was still free to participate in competitions in the senior category, and less than a week later, at the Indian Grand Prix in Patiala, he won gold in the 200m. A hamstring injury during training a few days later, however, scuppered his season and year.

Nisar Ahmad (right) with coach Sunita Rai. Sunita believes Nisar should have clocked 10.30 or 10.40 seconds in 100m by now if his career and training had progressed without hiccups. - SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

 

Nisar declines to talk about the age-verification test at the National Youth Championships. The fall from grace most likely had an impact on him, but the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic stalled his career, as did an unfortunate road accident in which his mother was badly hurt in May 2020.

“My mother was in coma for a while and I was in depression. All our money was spent on her treatment and I wasn’t able to train well because I was tense,” he says. “In 2021, my mother and I were down with COVID-19. It weakened my mother and the recovery she was making after the accident was nullified. It seemed we might not be able to save her, but by God’s grace she’s with us now. I recovered from COVID-19, too.

“Now I’m back in the groove, and training well.”

Weight of expectations

Sunita Rai, Nisar’s coach at the Chhatrasal Stadium, believes he still possesses the attributes to succeed at the highest level. She feels he has the strength, the speed, the discipline and the determination, and by now should have clocked 10.30 or 10.40 seconds, if his career and training had progressed without hiccups. Nisar’s personal best is 10.56 seconds which he clocked at the Delhi State Annual Athletics Championship in September, 2018.

All that is missing in him is equanimity to deal with the weight of expectations, according to the coach. “Bohot jaldi ghabra jata hai (he panics very easily),” she says.

Nisar’s desire to make up for lost time is palpable. The soft-spoken athlete says he is focused on resurrecting his career. He follows a busy schedule in the harsh winters: training in the gym from 6.30am to 10am, and does his track training from 2.30pm to 5.30pm.

Sunita indicates Nisar is likely to participate in the Delhi State Championships to be held on February 22 and 23 at the Nehru Stadium.

Nisar is ready for his relaunch. “I won medals when my father was a rickshaw puller and mother a domestic help, so why can’t I do it now? I’m confident of performing well in the state competitions and qualifying for the nationals.”

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