Haider Ali participates in Long Jump at a Paralympic event. File
Gulf Today, Staff Reporter
Haider Ali gets emotional remembering the biggest moment of his career – clinching the silver medal in the F37/38 Long Jump at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.
This was, perhaps, the biggest moment in Pakistan’s Paralympic history, their first ever medal at the Games.
It not only made Ali a star but changed the para-sport scenario in Pakistan. He became the face of Pakistan para-sport and a household name in his home city – Gujranwala, located north of the nearby provincial capital of Lahore.
“It was an unbelievable moment for me, a special one of course. Right from making Pakistan proud, witnessing the national flag being raised to clapping and appreciation from all across the world, everything was very emotional.
“People here back home knew about para-sport only after my Paralympic silver medal at Beijing 2008. The medal gave me recognition, a face, a motivation to believe in myself and my dreams.
"Many youngsters here also started following in my footsteps and now Pakistan has thousands of National para-athletes aspiring to become a Paralympic medallist like me,” Ali said reminiscing on the Beijing 2008 glory where he set a new World Record of 6.44m jointly with Tunisian Farhat Chida and only missed out on Gold when the number of successful jumps were tallied up at the end of competition.
Eight years later, Ali in fact came close to repeating that feat in Rio but had to settle for 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.
Looking ahead, Ali now wants to relive those glorious days with a medal-winning show at Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games next year.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has put his training regime in disarray, Ali is confident of repeating his Beijing show in Tokyo. In fact, he is focused on going one step further to clinch the elusive gold at the Tokyo 2020 Games, where this time he is hoping to compete in discus as well as long jump.
“I am aiming for the gold this time. And all my focus is on my men’s F37 discus event, where I am confident on finishing on top. In the recent events like the Indonesia 2018 Asian Para Games and Dubai 2019 World Championships, I have maintained the top place—winning the gold and silver medals. Besides, I believe my experience of the past few Games will play a big role,” said Ali who secured the Tokyo 2020 ticket in his discus and long jump events at the Dubai 2019 championships.
“There will be pressure and medal expectations, of course, but I love to perform in that pressure now.”
He is also expecting a good show in his men’s long jump F37 event but said, “Competition in my long jump event is expected to be very tough this time with many strong athletes in contention.”
Men’s athletes to watch out during the event include Algeria’s Abdellatif Baka, Trinidad and Tobago’s Akeem Stewart.
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