Training in isolation for Olympic qualification is not ideal but one of Pakistan’s brightest youngsters in Talha Talib is doing so at home in Gujranwala, hoping to win the coveted berth in Tokyo through the Asian Championship in Uzbekistan this April.
The 21-year-old has been a hero in more ways than one, mostly for his patience.
“It has been a very long and tough year, no competitions at all, but all I’ve done is train,” Talib tells The Express Tribune. “There is very little timeleft now. April is the last chance for me to make it to the Olympics. I’m taking each day as a challenge for that it is the last stop, and I’m just keeping myself in the space where I’m training hard, hoping for the best, and being realistic about my chances. I know I have missed three other events. To be safely in the Tokyo Olympics line-up, I should have participated in six championships, but I only competed in two, and now this is going to be the third, in Tashkent.”
If you try to google his last achievement right now, you will probably not know that he won three gold medals last year in Uzbekistan as well, but despite his constant achievements, there seems to be no support for him by the government or sponsors.
His last three medals were at the 6th Solidarity Championship in Tashkent that witnessed Talib at the top of the heap in 67kg with 140 snatch and 162 clean and jerk along with a total of 304 kg, but that happened to be the last event he competed in before the pandemic struck.
Talib had also grabbed a gold medal for Pakistan at the 2019 SouthAsian Games that were initially sanctioned to carry points by the IWF for Olympic qualification ranking, but later the event was listed out of the ranking.
Before the South Asian Games drawback, Talib was scheduled to compete in North Korea as well at the Asian Junior Championship, but Talib had missed the flight and the confusion in travel itinerary that led him to miss the event.
“It had been a series of unfortunate events for me. I don’t have much of a choice but to be really hopeful that somehow things will work out, I just need to keep myself in the right headspace and train,” Talib explained about why missing the events had weighed on him earlier, especially an event in Qatar after the South Asian Games too.
“There are athletes out there, who have participated in more events than me, so there is this fact at the back of my head. This is my last chance and I have been working very hard at home, and at this gym that I have, which is really a school.”
Talib is a text-book perfect weightlifter, elegant in his skill, as he managed to better his personal record and national record at the Inter-Departmental Championships in 2020 last quarter by lifting a total of 144kg in snatch and 170 in Jerk in his 67kg category, but he wants to improve and mostly he wants a chance at the Tokyo Olympics.
Due to Covid-19 global pandemic, the International Weightlifting Federation had postponed all of the events. The Asian Championship that was meant to take place last year before the postponed Tokyo Olympics, is going to happen in April now. Although there have been major changes in the qualification route as well with six countries including Russia, Thailand and Azerbaijan to be restricted to only one male and one female participation due to doping issues, Talib feels the competition will be tough.
“I won my last medals in Tashkent, so it can be a great place, but I know everyone is waiting to just perform,” said Talib. “It is very sad and frustrating for any good athlete to just sit at home, to train hard and not have a competition to participate in. So obviously, everyone will come in with their best on show. It will be a release for all of us and so I know there is no room for mistakes, and I have to give my all.”
Meanwhile Talib adds that the Pakistan Weightlifting Federation (PWF) have been extremely supportive.
On the other hand, the PWF vice-president Rashed Malik added that the government should support Talib and Nooh Dastagir Butt, as both have a chance at qualifying for the Olympics.
The revised Olympic criteria for qualification in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic will be that14 weightlifters for each category can have a place at the Games. Top eight will come from the IWF ranking, five continental places are up for grabs from the ranking, and one from the host country or Tripartite Commission invitation.