The winning sprint
Women's Day is just round the corner and this year You! honours our very own Naseem Hameed who won the 100-metre race in the South Asian Federation Games.
Once again it's that time of the year where we all get together to honour the achievements made by millions of women around the globe on Women's Day.
This year the woman of the year award in Pakistan should go to Naseem Hameed. This 22-year-old Pakistani girl, Naseem Hameed became South Asia's fastest woman when she won the 100-metre in the South Asian Federation Games (SAG) in Dhaka last month. She clocked in at 11.81 seconds to clinch the gold medal in the race, becoming Pakistan's first female athlete to win the sprint in the competition's 26-year history and turned out to be the third lady after Rehana Kausar (high jump, gold medallist, 1999 Kathmandu), and Shabana Akhtar (long jump, gold medallist, 1995 Madras) to have won gold for Pakistan.
The most amazing fact was that Naseem was unknown both here and in Dhaka before that fateful race. The race track of the Banghabandu National Stadium was set alight as Naseem was crowned the queen of the track to follow up the bronze medal she won with the 4x100m relay team of the country in the 10th South Asian Games held in Colombo in 2006. But the moment she won the race in the spectacle in Dhaka, Naseem went to become the heroine for sports fans across the country.
She defied all the odds and it's very rare to see a Pakistani woman reaching such heights in sports at a regional level. The performance showed the level of hard work and determination put in to make that possible. The sweat and the blood that had been put in the training sessions at the National Coaching Centre (NCC) in Karachi had paid off handsomely. She stood on the podium receiving the gold medal - an achievement that made Pakistan proud.
This victory came at a time when the country was frustrated by the national cricket team's shabby performance in all the three formats during their recently concluded tour Down Under.
Naseem was ecstatic about this victory, and said shortly after the race, "It is a great moment for me to have brought glory to my country after the poor show by our national cricket team and especially since our athletics standards have been poor of late. I hope my performance will inspire young athletes to become professionals."
Returning from the South Asian Games, Naseem was given a national hero's welcome, for she truly is a national hero for all of us. And when one doesn't have a lot of reasons to be happy in sports or otherwise, one can expect an overwhelming welcome to someone who has put Pakistan on the map for something other than terrorism. She was mobbed by hundreds of fans and relatives at Karachi airport upon her arrival and was then whisked to a formal reception laid on by the Southern Province of Sindh. She said she was elated by the reception.
I am on cloud nine. I had forgotten the world for six months and trained really hard under my coach Maqsood Ahmed to achieve this," she told the reporters at the airport.
Naseem also said that winning gold for Pakistan has encouraged her to go onto greater heights. "It is a great moment for me to have brought glory to the country by winning in this event. Since our performances in the arena of sports have been poor of late I will do my best to compete and win at higher levels like the Commonwealth Games and Olympics," she vowed.
The welcome and reception she got in Karachi has proved that today we have greater acceptance for women athletes. It was not so long ago that women athletes were banned from international competition during General Zia ul Haq's time. Thank fully these times have faded into history.
Ambitious, yes! And why shouldn't she be? After all Naseem is South Asia's fastest woman. With her in the ranks, Pakistan has a medal winning prospect for the Commonwealth Games that will take place later this year in New Delhi.
Naseem Hameed is a national hero for Pakistan, an inspiration for the women of this country. However, as she basks in this glory, getting there wasn't a bed of roses for her.
She represents the Army at the domestic level and lives with her family in a 40-yard single room house located in the slums of the Korangi Industrial Area. Her father Mr. Hameed is a labourer who hardly earns Rs. 9000 per month.
The girl who is proud for her stupendous performance in front of a large crowd in Dhaka, has no space in her house to keep her medals, which she has won so far in her brief but sparkling career. Naseem's sister, Annie, who is a football player, is of the view that Pakistani players have to do everything on their own to succeed, as the authorities do not support them properly.
After her brilliant performance, she now feels that her feat will definitely add to her responsibility. "Definitely the pressure has become grave after such an achievement and it will certainly add to my responsibility but I will try to face all the pressure and will struggle to make my career more healthy," said the proud athlete.
Although monetary gain is an added award for her, there is no doubt that she has earned the fame and awards being bestowed upon her. Cash prizes have followed the fact that Naseem has been made the 'Ambassador of Sports' by President Asif Zardari in recognition of her success along with Sara Nasir - the gold-medallist in Karate at the Games.
And according to Naseem, "I am overwhelmed by the President's encouragement and it's a matter of great happiness for me that he promised to send me and Sara for training abroad."
It is not strange in a country like ours, where sports is considered the least important faculty, that players with astounding talents perform amazingly at the international level.
The achievement has helped bring athletics' honour to a country that has been struggling to gain respectability on the track and in the field for several decades. Naseem's feat has made the country proud where sport sometimes acts as a leveller of sorts, allowing merit and ability to prevail over wealth and social connections. Naseem is the latest to revel in the glory that victory brings. Naseem happens to be another force gushing forth from the downtrodden fabric of the society. Her achievement has also sent a message across the globe that Pakistani women are not behind men.
Naseem deserves all the plaudits that she has got so far in her short career. She deserves every bit of it. She is a source of inspiration for women all around Pakistan. Naseem Hameed, you've made the cut. You are truly Pakistan's top woman of 2010!