Haider Ali on Friday became the first Pakistani to win a gold medal at the Summer Paralympics as he hit 55.26m in Tokyo during his F37 discus throw final.
He achieved the feat at his fifth attempt out of a total of six to score the best distance, almost 3m longer than Ukraine’s Mykola Zhabnyak who scored 52.43m to come in second place.
Brazilian Joao Victor Teixeira de Souza Silva came in third with a throw of 51.86m.
“There was a lot of tension, a lot of worry, because it was raining, this was not easy at all,” reflects 36-year-old Ali.
The Gujranwala-based athlete has done what no one has – he had created history for Pakistan at the Paralympics in 2008, becoming the first one from the nation to win a medal at the global stage.
He did it again in Rio 2016 Games, albeit both medals were in long jump. However, this time, Ali cemented his status of being the master of multiple track and field disciplines with a gold medal in the discus throw event.
“Training for the games was difficult because we don’t even have proper training facilities, but now that I have won the medal I feel so good,” Ali told The Express Tribune after the event.
“It was getting so hard to train after a point that I made my own place to do so. The Covid-19 restrictions were there, but we don’t have proper facilities so I had to do something on my own in my town. Then of course the tickets were an issue too. But I’m so happy.”
He added that he had the silver from 2008, the bronze from 2016, but it was this gold medal that he had been working so hard for.
Ali has been an experienced athlete now, but he wanted to make sure that the gold medal comes to him. In Pakistan, a society that already does not have the infrastructure and awareness about the people with special needs and then, to top it all off, do not take sports seriously, he wanted to make a point.
“This took me five years of training,” said Ali. “I didn’t even have the proper facilities, but since I qualified for this again in 2019 too I wanted to come to Tokyo and win the medal.”
He said even in the morning, a little while before the event, he was trying to ensure that he made the best of the conditions.
“It was tough, and there was this tension, because of the rain the weather was tricky, there was a lot of slipperiness in the field as well, the discus was slipping through my hands too,” explained Ali.
His first two attempts had been dismissed as fouls, while he made sure that he remained in the competition with a throw of 47.84m. Then again he had a failed attempt in the fourth go, but in his fifth attempt he conquered the field with 55.26m, that was also his personal best and enough to bag the gold medal.
Ali said for him the gold medal meant that the government should now focus on the Paralympics and the athletes playing and aspiring to make Pakistan proud in sports.
“I want to dedicate this medal to the people of Pakistan who prayed for me,” said Ali.
He added that his family and loved ones were proud of him too.
Ali has been in Tokyo with Anila Izzat Baig, who competed in the women’s discus throw event F64 and Chef de Mission Paralympics Fatima Shami.
Ali has been in Tokyo with Anila Izzat Baig, who competed in the women’s discus throw event F64, and Chef de Mission Fatima Shami.
Fatima has been extremely supportive as she has been taking care of all the affairs from training schedules to daily Covid-19 tests.
She urges the Government of Pakistan to look at the results and support the NPC of Pakistan, so that more women para-athletes can come forward and more paralympians can be seen. So far, she said, everything was done on self-help basis.
“At least support NPC like they support the Olympics. There is a lot of talent, there are so many more experienced para-athletes who couldn’t participate in the Games, because we don’t have the resources and funds. Meanwhile, there is also lack of awareness,” said Fatima.
“It is so hard to get the para-athletes to come and take sports seriously because they mostly don’t even get the facilities. We don’t have proper facilities for them and then there is lack of awareness among the people. But this can change if the government supports us. We’ll even see more female para-athletes, who we want to focus on for the future. But all this needs resources and funds. We didn’t even know that we would be able to come to Tokyo until a few days before the event,” said Fatima.
Fatima added that despite the challenges and hurdles, on Friday Ali made history despite having a tough start.
Fatima said the three-member contingent would return to the country on September 6.