Vol. 5 Num 187 Thu. December 02, 2004  

Deserved recognition for an excellent sportsman and coach

It was heartwarming to read in the November 24 edition of The Daily Star that sportsman par excellence in his heydays, and an outstanding sports coach and organizer ever since, Qazi Abdul Alim, is the recipient of the UNESCO Official Award for Physical Education and Sports for the Asia-Pacific region. Although I do not care much about UNESCO or foreign awards, any recognition of Qazi Abdul Alim's contribution to sports in Bangladesh is always welcome and very well deserved. I ought to know: Alim Bhai was my track coach when I was a member, and eventually the captains of Dhaka University and the then East Pakistan track teams. Alim Bhai had a lot to do with what little success I had in track.

I first came across this tall, fair and exceedingly handsome young man in the gymnasium of Dhaka University at the beginning of my freshman year. Alim Bhai was not affiliated with the University (he headed the National Sports Council, next to the Dhaka Stadium); yet, University is where he spent most of his spare time, scouting for talent and giving coaching tips. Everyone seemed to know him. As soon as he entered the gym, students would greet him, congregate around him and seek remedies for physical or psychological maladies hampering their sports performance. Years later, Alim Bhai would joke to me: "I am like a doctor writing prescriptions!"

Slowly I began to learn more about Qazi Abdul Alim, the legend. He had won the individual championships at Salimullah Muslim Hall, Dhaka University and the then East Pakistan track championships for all his four years at the University. Several of his records at each of these championships remained unbroken, it appeared, for ever. He was just as good at jumping, hurdling, throwing and pole vaulting as he was in running. He was Pakistan champion in the pole vault. He even won boxing championships. For his enormous accomplishments in sports, in the 1950s the government of Pakistan sent him to the United States for further education and training.

Above all, Alim Bhai was a good mentor. I remember that in my freshman year, in March 1966, after representing "East Pakistan" at the Pakistan sports championship in Lahore, I was seriously considering transferring to Punjab University where the track facilities were far superior. I sought Alim Bhai's advice, and he dissuaded me. That is when he really took me under his wings. As in a "prescription," he wrote down exactly how I needed to weight train, how I should train for my main events (800 and 1500 meters) by running, in practice, shorter distances (100, 200 and 400 meters) at faster than the race pace. Thanks to him, I did succeed in breaking the Bangladesh record in the 800 meters. If I did not achieve much more, it was due to my own shortcomings rather than Alim Bhai's lack of trying. Nevertheless, my winning Pakistan's only Rhodes Scholarship in 1970 had a lot to do with achievements in track, for which I shall always remain grateful to Alim Bhai. It was the running foundation that was built under the tutelage of Alim Bhai that enabled the writer to complete four New York City Marathons in his forties.

Even during the grueling practice sessions Alim Bhai was fun to be around. He was always cracking jokes, and sometimes out of frustration he would impersonate one of us to point out what we were doing wrong, much to the delight of the rest! Of course he had a wealth of knowledge about the Olympics and sports history. He described to us vividly the agony and ecstasy Roger Bannister felt while he became the first man to break the 4-minute barrier in the mile in 1954. "In the homestretch Bannister had nothing left," Alim Bhai recounted as though reading a suspense story to a bunch of awe-struck children. "But he knew he could not stop, because the whole world, possibly a knighthood, awaited him just beyond the finish line!" (Bannister was knighted in 1974). He would also tell us about the delight all the track and field people felt when the world's first two-time Olympic champion at decathlon (1948 and 1952), America's Bob Mathias, visited Dhaka. I shall forever cherish Alim Bhai's sports stories.

As we represented the then East Pakistan, I, as an athlete and he as a coach, in national/track championships at Lahore (1966), Rawalpindi (1967), Dhaka (1968), Peshawar (1969) and Karachi (1970), our friendship grew. I came to realise that Alim Bhai was the epitome of the ultimate perfect athlete. He never smoked. "Smoking is suicidal for an athlete; it destroys an athlete's stamina," he used to warn us. Thank God, smoking never tempted me. Occasionally, when I visited him in his office for a chat, I would have loved to have tea with him. Perhaps stretching the athlete's code a little too far, Alim Bhai never even drank tea! On rare occasions he would let his guard down. On one such occasion, while discussing the good things an athlete brings into a marriage, he said, "Athletes are better (you know what)!"

Alim Bhai is an accomplished and a prolific writer, mostly on sports, but on other topics as well. I remember one of his Bengali books on quotations: "Bani Chirontoni." The sports gene runs through the entire Alim family. Two of his sisters were also Bangladesh championship in track. It was my privilege to interview one of them in 1970 for a column I wrote for "Pakistan (Bangladesh) Observer": "Veterans Calling." Of course it was my honour to interview my coach and mentor Alim Bhai for the same column.

It feels strange to hear that Alim Bhai is 70. Alim Bhai has been picking up awards ever since he was a wiry lad of ten. Being the recipient of an award, therefore, must have become second nature to him. When he picks up the latest one, however, I hope Alim Bhai will realise that there are so many lives that he has touched and has rewarded by just being his generous self. As someone who benefited enormously from the privilege of training under him, I should like to express my gratitude to him on behalf of us all. I know that there is no place on earth Alim Bhai would rather visit than Athens, the home of the Olympics. Have a safe trip to Athens, Alim Bhai and Bhabi!