He has won it all for Pakistan at the Paralympics
Haider Ali has won it all. A bronze, a silver and a gold medal are already in his bag, but he doesn’t want to stop. At 36, the para-athlete is now aiming for records.
Haider won his, and Pakistan’s first ever Paralympics gold medal in the recently-concluded Games in Tokyo. It wasn’t the first medal for the multi-discipline para-athlete.
He won his first medal, a silver, in the F37/38 men’s long jump final at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing and bagged a bronze in the T37 men’s long jump final at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Haider won gold at the Tokyo Games when he hit 55.26 meters in the F37 category discuss throw final. It doesn’t end here for him. He wants to defend his title and break the world record — Uzbekistan’s Khusniddin Norbekov’s 59.75 meters — at the 2024 Paris Paralympics.
“I’ve got three years, and I got to compete with four meters. God-willing, I’ll achieve it,” Haider Ali told SAMAA Digital.
“I’m very near to the world record. I now have two targets; one, to defend my title and secondly to break the world record in Paris.”
Haider won the gold medal competing in the F37 category, which is for field athletes who have moderate hypertonia, ataxia or athetosis in one half of the body.
The other side of the body may be minimally affected and demonstrates good functional ability in throws. Transfer of weight onto the affected leg is poor. The affected arm may demonstrate no to some functional ability.
The physical challenges did not affect Haider’s interest in sports and he took up athletics in his college days.
“I had interest in sports since the start, but I did not know about athletics until I got admitted in college,” he said. “I came to know that ‘jumps and sprints’ are also a part of it, so I joined it.” Haider said he started participating in international events in 2006 through the National Paralympic Committee.
Education was clearly his second priority. “Just passing is enough for a sportsman,” he quipped. He did pass. The para-athlete holds a B.com degree.
Haider’s early laurels in the international arena came in the long jump discipline. However, he was not as successful in discus throw before the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships, where he won silver.
That also won him qualification for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
He trained for it all on his own. “I trained in Gujranwala only. Due to coronavirus, all grounds were closed, but I managed to make a setup of my own to train,” Haider said. “I used to consult with my coach online and used to send him videos and correct my mistakes using his feedback.”
Growing up in Gujranwala — a city known for its Pehlwans, Haider wanted to do something different. His father was into desi-kushti and his grandfather was a famous Pehlwan, but he chose athletics.
“There are already many Pehlwan’s in Gujranwala. So I thought, why not introduce a new sport to the city,” he said.
“May be the love for sports is in our blood but I did not choose Pehlwani.”
Haider also played cricket as a fast-bowler across Punjab but stopped playing the popular sport to focus on athletics few years ago.
He doesn’t fancy relying on others for his success.
“Athletics is an individual discipline and it also does not need any kind of ‘sifarish’, he said. ”If a person works hard enough, even one good day can make you a world champion. I wanted to depend on my own hard work to achieve success instead of relying on a team.”
Haider said his family had supported him since the very start of his sporting career but the government did not give him the recognition he deserved despite bringing Pakistan’s first silver and bronze medal in Paralympics. With the gold in his bag now as well, he owns a unique record.
The government, he said, has given him hope after that. Other bodies, including his department Wapda, Pakistan Sports Board and the Ministry of Inter-provincial Coordination have also promised him support.
“I am also thankful to Punjab sports minister Rai Tamoor Bhatti who announced a cash prize for me and also facilitated me before the 2020 Paralympics,” Haider said.
The more he is backed, the higher are the chances that he will go onto the next level to set, and break records, and continue a legacy, which is already rich.