SPRINT QUEEN NASEEM HAMEED OVERSHADOWS OTHER FEATS

ANISUDDIN KHAN (feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Feb
15 - 21, 2010

A blockbuster western movie "Slumdog Millionaire" created first true Indian millionaire from a slum of bustling city of Mumbai and from the tartan track of Dhaka, Bangladesh at the 11th South Asian games emerged Pakistan's first true millionaire of slum.

Naseem Hameed, 22, one of the four siblings of a labourer from the suburban colony of Korangi in Karachi became a millionaire in a week's time after sprinting to a gold medal in the 100 meters race on a crisp winter day at the Bangladesh capital.

Within a weeks time from the moment she reached the finishing tape at the Banglabandhu Sports stadium on a balmy day in February to the day when she returned home to a tumultuous welcome in her own city Karachi, Naseem Hameed became a millionaire as Pakistani nation hungry to hear some cheerful news in a depressed atmosphere opened their arms and purses to make the winner of the gold medal a millionaire.

So far she has been awarded cash prizes of Rs. 2.5 million and there is a lot still in the pipeline as the government and private citizens awarded her the money which she badly needed to lift her family from almost abject poverty.

It was a truly rags to riches story for Naseem Hameed born in a poor family where arranging two square meals for a family of five was a difficult job. For the family which lived in just one room house the life was nightmarish with no light at the end of the tunnel.

From this dark unpredictable and depressing tunnel emerged Naseem Hameed when she went to attend a neighborhood Millat School. Things started to change though slowly. The nature had given her the physique and strength to excel in sports. She made her mark and after few years later when she moved to Government College for women Korangi-6 she became an accomplished athlete.

Under the wings of her sports directress Ms.Abida Perveen, her talent blossomed. She was taken to Hockey Club of Pakistan where former international athlete Muhammed talib runs a coaching centre called Athletic Fitness School. Here her talent was polished and given more shine.

Her emergence on athletic track attracted headhunters and she found her way into Pakistan Army team that gave her first regular income. Pakistan Army made her a truly international athlete and she became permanent member of Pakistan's national athletics team. She visited foreign lands and took part in regional and international events, the biggest being the eight nation South Asian games.

Naseem Hameed become the fastest woman in South Asia as she clocked 11.81 seconds to win the 100-metre sprint gold medal. She was 0.12 seconds faster than Sri Lanka's Pramila Priyadarshani, who bagged the silver medal.

Her golden performance came at a time the nation was reeling under poor performance of national cricket team in Australia. Her first comment after grabbing the gold was that her performance would bring some cheer to the country after the cricket team's pitiable show against Australia.

"It is a great moment for me to have brought glory to the country in my event after the poor showing by our national cricket team and especially since our athletics standards have been poor of late. I hope my performance will inspire the young athletes to become professionals."

It is for the first time that a Pakistani woman has won the 100-metre sprint in the 26-year old history of the regional games. Just because she was a women, her performance attracted more attention.

Screaming headlines such as Pakistani girls becomes the fastest girl in South Asia, generated so much public interest that the country forgot to remember another feat that Pakistan hockey team had achieved in hockey game.

Pakistan also shocked India in handball final to bag gold. This upset was also overshadowed by Naseem's grand achievement. Pakistani nation conveniently forgot that Pakistan won the hockey gold defeating arch rivals in an exciting final. This achievement was pushed into background as Naseem Hameed dominated.

The hockey gold final was decided in a tie breaker where Indian senior duo of Dharamvir Singh and Varinderjeet Singh misfired in tie-breaker as India had to content with a silver after going down to arch-rivals Pakistan 4-5 in a keenly contested hockey summit clash.

The final match, which saw a fast start at the Moulana Bhashani Stadium, had to be stretched into the tie-breaker after the stipulated time did not produce any result, with the score leveled at 1-1.During the tie-breaker, India struck thrice through V Raghunath, Kullu and Vikas Pillai, but two seniors Dharamvir and Varinderjeet missed their chances as India's hope for another gold dashed.

Pakistan struck through Wasif Siddique, Kashif Javid and Tasawar Abbas, while in the fourth shot Zeeshan Ali missed.

In the crucial fifth shot, skipper Sabtain Raja held his nerve and found the target to settle the issue. In another match, Bangladesh bounced back from one-goal deficit to register a 2-1 win over Sri Lanka for the bronze medal.

India has always been a dominating force in the SAF games. The nation of over one teeming billion had always topped the medals table. At Dhaka India finished with 90 gold, 55 silver, and 30 bronze medals to end its dominating journey in the 11th South Asian Games.

One hundred and fifty eight gold medals were on platter in 23 events as India, who took part in 22 events, picked 90 of them to give themselves a big boost ahead of this years Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October and the Asian games in November.

The best campaign for India in the Bangladesh edition came in shooting where India rode on Rathod and Om Prakash's dominating show to bag a commanding share of 19 gold, nine silver and five bronze medals.

Swimmers followed suit as they shattered 10 new meet records, including two each by Veerdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal, en route to a share of 16-6-2.

However, India's biggest disappointment would be losing to arch-rival Pakistan in hockey, where they went down in the tie-breaker to settle for silver. In men's football, India drew blank after losing to Maldives in the bronze playoff but the eves made it up by taking the gold in their event.

India ruled the roost in badminton and table tennis, picking seven gold and five silvers each. In boxing, India had the smallest contingent in Amandeep Singh (men's 48kg), Suranjoy Singh (51kg) and Chhote Lal (57kg) and the trio emerged champions in their respective categories to fetch three gold.

Archers had a four men and four women team and all of them returned with medals as they also dominated the field pocketing 4-1-1. In athletics, despite a strong opposition from Sri Lanka and Pakistan,

India managed to finish on top with a share of 10-12-8. The silver lining was in 4x400m relay where India broke the monopoly of Lankans, picking both the men's and women's gold medals.

India failed to get a gold in 100m dash, where Shehan Abeypitiya of Sri Lanka and Naseem Hamid of Pakistan became the sprint stars, but the bright spots came in 400m (Bibin Mathew), long jump (Harishankar Roy) and javelin throw (Kashinath Naik).

India also won the 200m gold (Abdul Najeeb Qureshi), 100m hurdles (G Gayathry), 5000m (Sunil Kumar), long jump (Mohammad Ibrar) and (400m hurdles) B Thyagarajan.

In team events, India fared average clinching the gold in volleyball. India suffered a loss to Pakistan in handball to settle for silver and also lost to Afghanistan in basketball final to be contended with silver. They had further disappointment in store in golf where they managed just one silver.

In cycling India dominated with three gold, one silver and one bronze medal and also ruled the turf in kabaddi clinching both the men's and women's gold medals.

The Judokas also did their bit and earned five gold and one bronze, while in taekwondo India bagged 2-2-3.

Lifters were not lagging behind either and earned 3-1-1, while wrestlers had a share of 3-2-0. Introduced for the first time, wushu earned India four gold, three silver and two bronze medals, while karatekas failed to get gold and settled for three silver and four bronze medals.

In squash, India bowed to Pakistan's dominance again and settled for one silver and two bronze medals.

With India not taking part in cricket, hosts Bangladesh clinched the Twenty20 crown with a thrilling win over Sri Lanka. In the last edition in Colombo (2006), 216 gold medals were on offer and India had a share of 118-69-47. India will be hosting the next edition of the South Asian Games in 2012 with venues and dates yet to be announced.

An international sporting event in any third world country could not be complete without some major or minor technical disaster. In Dhaka it came in the men's full marathon ran on the last day of the Games.

The 42.195 Km race turned into a farce when it ended suddenly seven kilometers short of the full distance. The medal ceremony was held with gold to Nepal's Rajendra Bahadur Bhandari, silver to Sri Lanka's Ajith Bandara Adikari and bronze to India's Ram Singh.

But soon after the bizarre, sub-two hour timings were withheld with Sri Lanka lodging an official complaint.

"The full marathon which should have been actually 42.195kms was shorter by seven kilometers. Having seen the record sub two-hour timing we lodged a protest paying $100, said a Sri Lankan technical official.

Five runners in total competed in the men's full marathon which was flagged off early in the morning.

Indian contingent could not attend the closing ceremony because they were caught in the traffic snarl in the streets of Dhaka. Only a hand full of Indians took part in the closing parade.