My fingers frantically pressed buttons on the remote as I tried to find a channel that was screening the Olympics. The clock read 4:05pm. Five minutes had passed since the Men’s Javelin throw final event began. I hoped I had not missed a lot.
It was hard to remember the last time everyone had this much excitement for the Olympics. Previously, the hockey event of the London 2012 Olympics was the one that had a teenage me, and so many others, glued to the screen. Watching Pakistan’s seventh place match was the last I remembered of ever tuning into the quadrennial event. Subsequent failure of the hockey team to qualify for the Rio 2016 games ended any chances of me following the event.
This year, the participation of a measly ten competitors made any form of excitement impossible. The opening ceremony came and went as the country’s main focus was towards the cricket team’s tour of England and the West Indies. Practically no one I knew had been following the event till the morning of 26th July. That day news broke of a twenty one year old Pakistani weightlifter, hailing from Gujranwala, defying all odds.
He faced the best of the best whilst arriving in Tokyo without his coach. Looking to the stands with no one to support him, he lifted a mammoth total of 320kgs. Excitement for a podium finish grew. If not a gold or silver, a bronze medal seemed to have been nailed on. As news spread, the number of viewers grew. All of them praying for a first medal since 1992. Alas, quite surreal circumstances did not allow it. Two of the remaining participants went on to shatter the Olympic record for the Men’s 67kg weightlifting competition, lifting 332 and 331kgs respectively. This led to Talha dropping from third place to fifth. Despite the failure to win a medal, Talha’s achievement sent shockwaves back home. It shed light on the mismanagement of athletes who, despite next to zero support and facilities, are still able to fight at the very top.
Talha had another achievement as well. He made sure everyone back home tuned into all the remaining events with Pakistani participants. Fast forward to 7th August 4pm, the excitement of a medal had returned. Rather ironically though, Arshad Nadeem was the last hope left. This was the last event with a Pakistani competitor . Finishing top of the group in qualifying made him the first Pakistani to reach the finals of a track and field event in the Olympics, an achievement of its own.
I finally found Ten Sports as the third attempts were about to begin. At the moment, the rankings showed India’s Neeraj Chopra at the top with a mammoth throw of 87.58m. The commentators were all crowning him the gold medallist for this year already. What was more shocking was seeing Arshad in ninth place. I, as almost everyone in the country, did not know the rules of this sport. Frantically scrolling twitter for updates, I came to know that the top 8 would proceed to round 2 where they would get 3 throws each to improve their best attempts. As Arshad picked up the javelin for his last attempt, he lifted the hopes of the country with it. His chest puffed out, he ran with purpose, eventually letting go with an intense rage culminating in a prolonged scream as the javelin pierced the Tokyo air. It landed at the 84.62m mark, propelling him from ninth to fourth at the end of the round. We would go again.
As Arshad gave the country more hope, it was quick to be diminished as the round proceeded. With all the adrenaline boosts now over, all the athletes bar one, had a fall in performance. The second round appeared as a mere formality, with the top 3 positions seemingly locked up. If Arshad was to finish on the podium, he had to best his third attempt by 0.8m more. With the nation holding it’s breath for his last attempt, it was not to be. His javelin fell around the 81m mark. The camera panned onto a crestfallen Arshad as he remained in his position, his head in his hands as he shied away from the spotlight.
Arshad's and Talha’s finishes were monumental. Both came fifth but held the nation’s head high, fighting till the end. Not only did they give the nation excitement for this year’s event, but their young age and mammoth pool of talent has raised the eyebrows of many sponsors in the country. If their progress continues and injuries are avoided, Pakistan’s hunger for a first medal since 1992 might finally be over in the Paris 2024 games.
Muhammad Haseeb Haider,
MBBS Class of 2025