Finally, Karachi hosted the National Athletics Championship after a long gap of 12 years. It was a thrilling event with huge media attendance on all three days despite some mismanagement on the part of the Sindh Athletics Association (SAA) that hosted the various competitions.
Army, as usual, clinched the men’s overall title, while WAPDA maintained its supremacy in the women’s events. The male athletes competed in 23 while the women took part in 21 disciplines.
It was expected that a few records would be set but strong wind proved a hurdle in the way of the athletes who seemed to have prepared well in order to ensure their places in the international assignments, including Islamic Games, Asian Championship and World Championship.
As no surprise was seen, the Athletics Federation of Pakistan (AFP) will comfortably stick to the pool of 25 athletes (14 male, 11 female) it had already picked for the Islamic Games, slated to be held in Azerbaijan capital Baku from May 12-22.
The AFP also plans to field a solid squad in the Asian Championship to be held in India in June. However, in the World Championship to be held later this summer in London, Pakistan will field only one athlete.
Keeping in view the timings of Pakistan’s top athletes, it is expected that the national athletes, particularly women, will be able to win a few medals in the Islamic Games.
WAPDA’s Najma Parveen, who featured in Rio Olympics on the basis of her superb showing in the 2016 Quetta National Championship, kept her glorious run in tact by once again collecting six gold medals.
Najma, who was seen in terrific form, snared gold in 100m, 200m, 400m, 400m hurdles, 4X100m relay and 4X400m relay. Najma clocked 12.79 seconds in 100m sprint.
Maria Maratab of Army set a new national record in triple jump with 11.96 metre. The record was earlier held by Maryam Babar of WAPDA, who had recorded 11.75m at National Championship in Islamabad on May 26, 2013.
Last year Maria had been provisionally picked for the Rio Olympics but she was replaced by Najma.
Rabia Ashiq of WAPDA, who represented Pakistan in 2012 London Olympics, was also in her element as she captured gold in 800m, 1500m and 5000m besides being part of the team that won 4X400m relay gold.
In men’s events, a superb contest was seen between Olympian Mehboob Ali and Nokar Hussain, brothers who represent Army.
Nokar, the elder brother, dethroned Mehboob by snatching gold in the 400m with timing of 47.17 seconds. Mehboob, who had equalled the 400m record of Rana Saghir Ahmed by clocking 46.75 seconds in the National Championship in Quetta last year, was well short of his personal best with 47.31.
Mehboob, who took part in Rio Olympics, made amends for his failure in the 400m when he beat his brother Nokar by winning gold in 400m hurdles with timing of 51.20 seconds. Nokar, who took silver in the event, clocked 51.27.
The performances of triple jumper Mohammad Afzal and sprinter Mohammad Shehbaz, both from Army, was impressive. Afzal, who had secured gold in the Asian Youth Championship in Qatar in 2015, lived up to the expectations by securing gold in the triple jump with a 15.93m. Shehbaz, who holds junior 100m title, failed to grab gold in the same event at the senior level where he made his debut as he lost to Gohar Shehbaz of WAPDA, who clocked 10.92 seconds. But in 200m, Mohammad Shehbaz was able to clinch gold medal with 21.58 seconds, which seems a fine effort from the youngster.
The country’s top athlete Arshad Nadeem of WAPDA fell short of his personal best but defended his javelin throw title with a throw of 76.80m. Arshad, the Asian Junior Championship and South Asian Games bronze medallist, was ranked third in the IAAF Under-20 World Rankings early last year with a throw of over 78m.
He was sent to Mauritius recently for eight-month training but returned because of home sickness after a few days.
The other departments and provinces had to struggle hard against the athletes of Army and WAPDA. Army fielded a very young female side and it is expected that in the next few years the soldiers will give a tough time to WAPDA in women’s events.
Higher Education Commission (HEC), who grabbed the fourth place in men’s and third in women’s section, fielded their athletes without any formal training.
“We have come directly from homes. There are a lot of funds with the HEC but it does not hold camp and that is why we are suffering here,” an HEC athlete, who studies at a university in Lahore, told me during the championship.
For Railways, Hafeez snared a bronze medal in 20km walk-race. A few of their athletes finished in the top six of men’s events. The department gave Rs600 daily allowance to the athletes besides providing them with decent board and lodging, unlike in the past.
The performances of the provinces were not satisfactory and through interaction with their athletes I am now convinced that grouping has inflicted an unprecedented damage on these nurseries of athletics.
Director General Rangers and Corps Commander Karachi announced athletics tracks for the port city. The credit for this goes to AFP president Maj Gen (retd) Akram Sahi who convinced these personalities.
Sahi, who belongs to a political family, is getting an athletics track worth Rs80.5 million laid in Faisalabad at a venue where star cricketer Saeed Ajmal has his academy. Faisalabad is the hometown of Sahi.
Sahi told ‘The News on Sunday’ (TNS) that his journey for boosting infrastructure would continue. He said that there should be at least one track in every city. He said that the AFP would also have its own track which would help it hold its activities without any hindrance.
Sahi also wants the AFP to have its own equipment for conducting the championship. He said that the AFP plans to bind the provinces through constitutional amendments so that they could hold events regularly not only at Inter-District level but also at tehsil and union council levels so that hidden talent could be found.