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“I am aware of the expectations and the hopes of the people back in Pakistan. I think that is putting a little more pressure than the competition, but I know what my target is, and that is a medal. I don’t care much about anything else at the moment. I want to walk out of this place with my head held high,”  reflects, as he will be going in to make history for Pakistan in athletics’ javelin throw event on August 4 in Tokyo.

The athlete, based in Mian Chunnu, Khanewal is a miracle story -- the kind that maybe a country like Pakistan does not deserve, where athletes, who are not cricketers, are considered bad investment. But despite the lack of sponsorships and opportunities, Arshad made a mark.

In fact, Arshad’s bronze medal in the 2018 Asian Games was a surprise to all. Then his subsequent feat of directly qualifying for the Olympics with an 86.29m throw in Nepal was the first time any Pakistani athlete qualified directly for the Olympics track and field event.

He is the last athlete vying for a medal for Pakistan at the  hoping to get a medal, and break the country’s 29-year-old medal-drought in the Games. Pakistan took their last medal in the 1992 Olympics, the Barcelona Games.

“I am training in Tokyo too, in the morning and afternoon, and I know there is going to be tough competition,” Arshad told The Express Tribune, as he shared that he is placed in Group B of the javelin throw qualification round that will take place on August 4 and then the final on August 7. “My goal is to get the medal. My goal is to get into the final. The Group B is looking tough. Every thrower wants only one thing and that is to get through. I want return home with my head held high. I want to make my nation proud. That is what I am thinking about. I just need to do the best I am capable of here in Tokyo.”

Arshad’s jouney to Tokyo has been a long one. He contracted Covid-19 in May while training in Turkey with Kazakhstan’s former international javelin thrower and now coach Viktor Yevsyukov.

He made his international comeback after the 2019 South Asian Games performance in April at the Mashhad Imam Reza Athletics Tournament in Iran, where he bettered his personal best and created a new national record, throwing a distance of 86.38m.

He admitted before that he had struggled to keep himself motivated in his village and returned to training earlier this year, with his mentor and coach Fiaz Bokahri, to shed the weight he had gained throughout 2020.

“Mental toughness is the key for me and then adaptability. I just focused on that. It had been such a tough road,” said Arshad.

Arshad said that the only Olympic event he watched while being at the village was of his fellow track and field athlete Najma Parveen, but the rest of the time he kept his focus on the training and following the strict rules he knew he needs to adhere to in the pandemic-delayed Games. Parveen ran in the 200m event on August 2 and came last in the seven-person heat to qualify for the event finals.

Athletics over cricket

Arshad played province-level cricket and he feels that while he was successful as a youngster in cricket, he does not regret quitting the country’s most popular sport for something as acquired of a sport as javelin throw.

“My older brother played cricket. Then my other brother played football and he was into shot put too. But I took up javelin throw because I knew cricket involved too much. I know I couldn’t have survived because there is so much politics there, so javelin throw was something I liked. It suits my height,” said Arshad.

He reveals his cricketing heroes were former all-rounder Abdul Razzaq and former pacer Shoaib Akhtar.

“I was a good bowler, although I was an all-rounder, but bowling was great because I was tall and it worked,” said Arshad. “Abdul Razzaq and Shoaib Akhtar used to be my heroes back then. I admired their game so much growing up.”

But the youngster and the father of two – a little boy and his daughter – whom he much adores, feels that he has been received well in the world of athletics. He has made friends with international javelin throwers and bonds well with the Indian athletes too. “We see each other on tour,” says Arshad while talking about Indian javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra.

“Then there’s Shivpal [Singh] as well and this is all good company,” said Arshad, as Shivpal will be competing for a spot in the final in the same group as the Pakistani on Wednesday.

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