Pakistan Paralympian Haider Ali
Pakistan Paralympian Haider Ali Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Pakistan Paralympian Haider Ali is aiming for gold as he considers a lengthy preparation period before next year’s Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Ali, whose biggest career moment came when he clinched the silver medal along with a new world record in the F37/38 Long Jump (6.44 metres) at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, is now setting his sights on possibly touching his peak at next year’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

“I am aiming for the gold this time, and my focus is on the men’s F37 discus event, where I am confident on finishing on top,” Ali told the official Asian Paralympic Committee (APC).

The Pakistan para-athlete won two medals at the 2010 Asian Para Games in Guangzhou, China with a long jump gold in the F38 event and a bronze medal in the T38 100 metres.

Since then Ali, who suffers from cerebral palsy, has been able to steadily build-up towards Tokyo. After two golds and a bronze in Discus Throw, Javelin Throw and long jump, respectively at the 2018 Asian Para Games in Indonesia, Ali won silver at the 2019 Dubai World Championships and book himself a spot for Tokyo.

Hailing from Gujranwala, located north of Lahore, Ali came close to repeating his Beijing feat at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, but had to settle for a bronze. He is now the first and only Pakistan para-athlete to win more than one Paralympic Games medal. The medal also helped Ali mature in terms of confidence, experience and becoming a role model to help change the perception of people about para-sport in Pakistan.

“Of course, there will be pressure and medal expectations, but I love to perform in those sort of situations now,” Ali admitted.

“But, I believe my superior experience in the past few competitions will play a big role in my success at next year’s Tokyo Paralympic Games.”

Now as he prepares in both discus and long jump for a postponed Paralympic Games next year, Ali is expecting a good show in the long jump F37 event. “Competition in the long jump is expected to be very tough this time due to the presence of many strong athletes. So, while I prepare I want to maintain my focus and concentration,” he said.

However, due to the current COVID-19 situation, the lockdown has been re-imposed in Pakistan thus denying Ali vital training facilities. “As an athlete, we have to ensure that we are safe and healthy to overcome these difficult times. So, I am using the farm in my home backyard as my training ground and the focus is more on my fitness and technique. I have also started working on my endurance and core exercises,” Ali said.

Ali, who has hemiparesis (or weakness of one entire side of the body) on the right side since birth, said his love for athletics developed as a teenager and it was only in 2004 that he could actually pursue his passion. “I was very much fond of athletics since a very young age. It was only during my college days at the Government College Gujranwala that I was introduced to the sport with proper guidance. And eventually I started bunking classes to attend training sessions for long jump and discus throw sessions,” he said.

Two years later, Ali made a dream international debut clinching four medals, including a gold in the men’s long jump F37 event during the 2006 FESPIC Games in Kuala Lumpur, and since then has never looked back.

Ali emphasised that maintaining fitness is the most important thing during downtime and thus he is spending most of his time on fitness. “The last two or three months have been about working on basic fitness before I started working on technique. Strengthening and conditioning will be the focus, once I get back to actual training camps,” he said.

Ali is on regular video calls with his long-time coach Akbar Ali Mughal, who is chalking out a regular workout programme for the 35-year-old para-athlete. Ali admitted that the postponement of Tokyo has given athletes more training time, especially for the younger athletes who are able to attain their peak quickly.

“At the Dubai 2019 Championships, there were at least 10 athletes among us who were at the same level. So, it’s definitely going to be a tough competition at Tokyo 2020. And with the postponement, everyone has got enough time to prepare better. All my competitors are seven to eight years younger to me,” he said.

“For athletes like me, who don’t have the age-advantage, it will be important that we should work harder to stay fit, flexible and injury-free.”