“I have lived through a very difficult time to be back here competing again. The injury almost finished me but I want to win the medal here at Commonwealth Games. The performance here means a lot me,” Pakistan’s medal hope and top weightlifter Muhammad Nooh Dastgir Butt looks to better his previous bronze medal record at the Games in Birmingham.
The 23-year-old has been the top-rated weightlifter for Pakistan since 2016, he has multiple junior records and in his +109kg event the competition is tougher than ever.
He has been training to be a successful weightlifter since he was a child with his father Ghulam Dastgir who was himself a professional weightlifter and won several medals for Pakistan.
Nooh’s target was to compete at the Tokyo Olympics but he sustained an injury in his thigh that forced him to take a step back for more than a year.
The Commonwealth Games will be a comeback for him since his last international appearance in Tashkent at the World Weightlifting Championships in December 2021, where he won a silver medal for lifting a total of 390kgs with 165kgs in snatch and 225kgs clean and jerk.
Nooh and his brother Hanzala will be in the spotlight on August 3 in the +109kg event and 109kg category, respectively.
“I have to win a medal, better than bronze, for my father and my country,” Nooh told The Express Tribune. He feels that defending a bronze medal is not good enough anymore.
“My father was really upset with me the last time I won bronze, he didn’t talk to me for a while, so my goal is to do better now. I just have one request. I want a lot of prayers from my fellow Pakistanis for this event.”
Nooh brought a bronze medal home from 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast and before that he has been consistently winning silver and bronze medals at the Commonwealth Weightlifting Championships from 2015 till 2017, along with holding several national records, but now Nooh is mature and better at strategising.
He feels the year he took off has taught him a lot, mostly that winning is important for him and getting back on the feet is crucial even when the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB), the Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) and the government did not support him, despite being one of the best talents to come out of Pakistan.
He recalled that the rupture in his thigh muscle and recovery from it had been a battle for his entire family with no specialised doctors available in Pakistan for athletes and no support from the PSB or the POA.
“It was a dark time for me because not being able to compete was hard.
“I competed in the national events and the South Asian Games in 2019, but I was with an injury that was escalating by the minute. I had to stop competing and training for a long time and we bore all the expenses of the treatment. My father and my mother took care of me and I can say that I am back because of them,” said Nooh.
In the last national championship, he lifted 175kgs in snatch and 225kgs in clean and jerk.
He wanted to compete in the qualifying rounds for the Tokyo Olympics as well but he contracted Covid-19 during the pandemic, but he decided that he wanted to recover well in order to win better.
“I can say that the stakes for the Commonwealth Games are so high for me because I want all these years of hard work — 12 to 14 years of my life — that I have put in to at least show here. I want to win Olympics too. I would have if I was fit enough, but the bottom line is to win and make my country proud, to finally see better results,” said Nooh.
Nerves of steel
Nooh wants to lift for the gold medal and he feels his toughest competition will come from New Zealand, while in the training hall at the Commonwealth Games, he has lifted more than ever before.
“At the training hall here, I lifted 180kgs in snatch and 230 kgs in clean and jerk, so that is something I want to do in the event too,” said Nooh.
He feels that the key will be to stay focused under-pressure and not cave in and strategize each attempt.
In his ordeal with the thigh injury and lack of support Nooh has grown mentally strong too, he feels more confident now in his own ability.
“Mentally I am stronger now. I have played enough to gain confidence and make the right calls. I have matured, I can sustain the pressure of the competition for sure, so I am looking forward to it,” said the Wapda athlete.
He is based in Gujranwala and weightlifting runs in his family.
“My favourite weightlifter is my father, because he also won medals for Pakistan by training in Pakistan. Given the lack of infrastructure, facilities and government support, he did it too, and I feel I can do the same. The difference is that my father has done so much for me and my brother Hanzala now, so we owe it to him. He is our role model,” said Nooh.
He explained that now Hanzala, 19, will also be competing in the 109kg event and both of the brothers need good diet, top quality equipment and good environment that their father has given them.
He said that he is lucky to not depend on PSB at times. Even before coming to the event, he had to stay up because there was no electricity at the PSB lodging in Islamabad.
“I got ready to come to Birmingham without electricity. We had to stay in Islamabad to collect our kits and other things like tickets, but my point is that athletes need proper facilities, resources and training. We don't get them at all in Pakistan," said Nooh, also pointing out that people outside Pakistan have a different mindset towards the athletes.
It takes a village to raise a child
Nooh believes that the Olympic medal can also be won given the sports authorities and government begin to care for the athletes. In his comparison between what he is observing in England to what he sees at home there is a lot to think.
“Athletes are groomed with a lot of love. I get it from my family, but it requires lot of care and here in Birmingham, for example , I can see the attention to detail from the organisers and medical staff and everyone involved, but back home that is not the case,” said Nooh.
He said that with his brother and him training all year long like soldiers, it is the family that helps them stick to their schedule of workout sessions and having a good diet. They both compete in heavier categories and Nooh has a natural weight of 130 to 140kgs regardless of the competition.
“My mother used to make breakfast for me, but now my father does it for both Hanzala and me. It used to be just me and now they have two weightlifters to take care of. It is challenging at times, but there is so much love here. He always says that nothing should stop us from training, which is why we do what we do. I find motivation because this is my life goal,” said Nooh.
He explains that being vigilant with his schedule and reporting to the International Testing Agency is also important for his career and credibility.
“We live like soldier live. We train throughout the year, we can be asked to go perform for Pakistan any time. Then we must report and be very careful with what we eat and consume. It all requires a lot of preparation that one person alone can’t do,” Nooh, who trains with his brother in three sessions said.
Keeping it clean
While the Pakistan weightlifting has been hit by a massive doping scandal lately, with at least five weightlifters testing positive for doping, Nooh and his brother have been all about clean game.
He said that as soon as he came for the Commonwealth Games his samples were taken for testing.
“We have always been clean and we discourage any such activities and choices that may jeopardise our careers and lives. People die because of these substances, so it is important for us to keep ourselves away from prohibited drugs.
“I have been tested so many times and I am good with that,” said Nooh.
Road to 2024 Paris Olympics
Nooh and Hanzala will both receive monetary support as the POA have enlisted them for the International Olympic Association grant.
Nooh said that the money will help is participation of the six qualifying rounds for the Summer Games.
“It is good that we are getting the support, at least we will not have to worry about traveling to these events,” said Nooh.
He is hopeful that the Commonwealth Games will be the start of a new cycle for him and both him and his brother can get medals in Birmingham. Nooh revealed that even though Hanzala has a hairline fracture, he is looking to perform at the game.