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Achievements, in brief
Among the handful of men and women Indian athletes pushing the boundaries to make a mark on the world stage is a 16-year-old from Delhi who has been burning the tracks. Nisar Ahmed shot into prominence last year when he clocked better timings than some of his senior State mates. His growth since then has only increased the hopes for the future and his travel to the Racers Track Club in Kingston, Jamaica — home to Usain Bolt and other legendary sprinters — has added to his hunger and belief.
How did he get off the blocks?
Like most talented sportspersons from underprivileged backgrounds — Nisar lived in the slums near Azadpur wholesale vegetable market — his initiation was coincidental. He outran his friends while playing with them but did not think he was special. With his father Mohammad Haq pedalling a rickshaw and mother Shafikunisha working as a domestic help for a combined monthly salary of approximately ₹6,000 for a family of four, excellence in sport was not a priority. When Nisar was in Class III, his physical training instructor, Surender Singh at the Ashok Vihar Government Boys Secondary School, entered his name in an inter-zonal competition, and realised his potential. Mr. Singh took him to Sunita Rai, coach at the Chhatrasal Stadium under the Delhi administration, who took his trials and has been training him since.
What are his big moments?
Nisar showed what he was capable of at the Delhi State meet last September. With a 11-second timing in the 100 metres for the junior gold, it was 0.02 seconds better than the winner in the men’s category. He broke two national under-16 records that day, winning the 200 metres to complete the double, and was on his way to better things.
But the spark had been visible even before when he won gold at the School National Games in 2014-15 in Ranchi, followed by a four-medal haul in the next edition in 2016 at Kozhikode — two golds and bronze each — that earned him the best Under-16 athlete award. He was also picked as an Olympics medal prospect by Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) and Anglian Medal Hunt after a talent search in 2016, the support from both to continue till 2020. Performing in Delhi, however, helped him come into prominence.
Since then, his timing has improved from 11 to 10.85 seconds in 100 metres, and he has slashed the 200 metre clock from 22.08 to 21.73 seconds, both national Under-16 records set at the Junior National Championships in Vijayawada last year. He bested his own 100 metre record with a timing of 10.76 seconds at the recent Khelo India Games, then flew to Jamaica the next day before returning for the Federation Cup.
What does the future hold?
The biggest challenge for Nisar is financial but there are other hurdles too. His coach, Ms. Rai, insists that if he works hard he can run 100 metres under 10 seconds. But for that he will have to be focussed, work on his strength and fitness, and avoid falling prey to the lure of quick success. Nisar was not able to reach the cut-off mark at the recent Federation Cup in Patiala, which was the last competition before selection. His timing was 11.04 seconds in the heats and 10.96 seconds in the semifinals and he could not qualify for the final.
He failed to qualify for the upcoming Commonwealth Games. The shadow of doping will forever hang on anyone who succeeds in sport and Nisar needs to be aware of that. He may look up to Bolt, work out with Yohan Blake and take tips from legendary coach Glen Mills, but it will mean nothing if he is not careful, says his coach.
Money is also an issue. While GAIL sponsors his training, kits and provides protein for nutrition, his family continues to struggle. Ajmal Foundation, led by Badruddin Ajmal of the AIUDF, has stepped in to adopt him and fund his training, but the modalities of any monthly support is yet to be worked out.
2018: Already a record breaker
The tin shack with plastic sheets and a few sparse bricks is an unlikely metaphor for the teenager who calls it home. Sitting by the railway tracks in the Bada Bagh slums in the Capital’s Azadpur area, it trembles each time a train passes by but refuses to collapse.
From a life beside these tracks, Nisar Ahmad will soon embark for the hallowed one at the Racers Track Club in Kingston, Jamaica, home of athletics superstar Usain Bolt and his venerable coach, Glen Mills.
Ahmad, the son of a rickshaw puller and a house maid, is among 14 budding athletes chosen to undergo a month’s training at the world’s most famous track and field club. In a first partnership of this nature, athletes in the 15-18 years age group from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Odisha and Delhi were selected under the initiative undertaken by the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) and sports management company, Anglian Medal Hunt. The Kingston club assessed the applicants’ capabilities and potential and agreed to a four-week training programme.
For the 16-year-old Ahmad, running laps at Bolt’s club has been backed by some impressive runs on his home turf. It is staggering given that with a combined monthly income of a mere Rs 5000, the family finds it being difficult to put food on the table, let alone provide a diet rich in protein for a budding runner.
At first, the talented teenager is proud enough not to let the poverty show. “Our parents somehow manage to provide us with meals,” he says defiantly, as his mother Safikunisha affectionately pipes in, “Even as a child he used to run very fast. No one could catch him.” At the recent Delhi State Athletics meet, the Government Boys Secondary School, Ashok Vihar student broke two national under-16 records as he bagged two gold medals in the short sprints. He shaved off 0.02 seconds off the 100m record, running in 11seconds. Ahmad also eclipsed the existing 200m mark of 22.11secs, clocking 22.08 sec.
As he opens up, the striking poverty surrounding him and his aspirations, he admits, often leaves him despondent. “Some friends whom I train with, occasionally invite me to their big houses. I never bring friends home because there is no place even to seat them,” he sighs, seated in their cramped, 10 by 10 feet, poorly ventilated dwelling that he shares with his sister and parents. The entrance lies over a drain carrying sewage water from the crowded shanties in the slum. “I cry sometimes because God has given me a very tough life,” he says, “But it is my poverty that has inspired me to work hard in the face of such challenges.”
“He used to run bare-feet. I trained him but with his talent, I realised he needed proper training,” remembers physical education teacher Surendra Singh who saw the potential in the scrawny boy in 2013.
2018: Gold at Khelo India School Games
GOLD MEDAL IN 100M
The 16-year-old from Delhi’s Bada Bagh slum in Azadpur has emerged as one of country’s promising track and field sensations at the junior level. Nisar has regularly been recording sub-11 timings at the domestic level meets and is touted as a future medal prospect at international competitions.
In the KISG, he not only equalled his personal best – clocking an impressive 10.76s – to clinch the gold medal in the 100m dash but also rewrote the under-16 national record.
“I want to use this scholarship to bust the myth that Indians cannot run below 10 seconds. My ultimate aim is to bring medal glory for the nation at the Olympics. Khelo India is a step in that direction,” he said.
Nisar has now gone to train at the famous Racers Track Club in Kingston, Jamaica, home to track legend Usain Bolt and his coach Glen Mills.