It had been a year since Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem picked up the javelin to compete at a tournament – having put a pause to all competitions after a fifth-place finish at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, where India’s Neeraj Chopra, and fellow podium-sharer from the 2018 Asian Games, had crowned himself champion.
For the 25-year-old Nadeem, it has been a quieter year as he has had to nurse an elbow injury in between and prepare for a comeback to the global stage. Yet the same fate that befell him at Tokyo, returned to haunt the Pakistani javelin athlete at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon as well, where he was making his comeback but finished in the fifth-place again, with a best throw of 86.16m, a bump from his Tokyo best (84.62m), in any case.
Speaking to The Bridge on Sunday morning, moments after Neeraj Chopra’s historic silver medal victory, Karachi-based Natasha Raheel, who follows Arshad’s journey closely, recalled the moments, “It’s a little heartbreaking to see. This was Arshad’s first competition since Tokyo and I think this was a good performance as any – it was inspiring and endearing to watch him perform today,” the mellowness of Arshad almost-finishing on the podium unmistakable in her voice.
Neeraj Chopra (left) and Arshad Nadeem at the 2018 Asian Games
During the Tokyo Olympics, a lot of hype had done the rounds when pictures of Arshad Nadeem fiddling with Neeraj Chopra’s javelin before the finals had surfaced, making people across both sides of the border speculate theories.
However, Neeraj, nearly twenty days after the gold medal win, revealed how it was nothing more than just a light exchange as the two are great friends and have even shared the podium during the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games, where Arshad won bronze and Neeraj, the gold.
Unlike Chopra who started his 2022 season at the Paavo Nurmi Games in June this year, his friend from the neighbouring country was delaying his return owing to a bothering right elbow injury.
“Every time I have spoken to Arshad before this event, he has said that this time around he was only competing against himself, he just wanted to be back,” Natasha relays.
“What was most heartening for me to see was how he was getting the whole crowd at Oregon involved before each of his throws as he signalled them to cheer him on,” she highlighted.
Despite the injury, Nadeem had been working on his comeback for a bit and was also in South Africa for two months, earlier this year, to train. Before this, Nadeem would train locally in Lahore itself.
But since then it has been a bit of transition for the Pakistani athlete as he has changed coaches as well.
“This time around, Nadeem wasn’t with his mentor, Fiyaz Bokhari, at all, and he has been training with different people – so it’s been a good recovery for him here too after the injury,” Natasha mentioned.
“However, this still hurts because I would want Arshad to finish on the podium with a medal soon, it can be any event, from this point onwards.
“This is just a journey and of course, he would learn from this and improve his performance in the near future, I hope,” Natasha conjectured.
Speaking in the press conference post his silver win at the World Athletics Championships, Neeraj Chopra mentioned that he has extended his congratulations to Arshad on his return to competition and doing so well in the very first tournament he took part in since Tokyo, too.