BEIJING: Asim Qureshi, fifty-two years old table tennis players representing Pakistan in the ongoing Asian Games in Jakarta, is one of the oldest athletes at the 2018 Asian Games.
“Table tennis is my passion and love,” said Qureshi to China Global Television Network (CGTN) Sports Scene over the phone from the Asian Games athletes’ village in Jakarta on Saturday.
“I am happy to have played for my country again in the Asian Games.”
Although he made his Asian Games debut in Incheon in 2014, the top Pakistani player has been the torchbearer of the sport in his country for a long time. Playing his second Asian Games in Jakarta, he lost his Round of 32 singles match to India’s Achanta Sharath Kamal, who is 20 years younger.
In a country where the most popular sports are cricket and hockey, Qureshi picked up the racket at the age of 14 and never looked back.
He became a top-class national-level player at the age of 16 and since then has represented Pakistan in two editions of the Commonwealth Games, 16 World Table Tennis Championships and 55 international tournaments. He is one of the oldest athletes at the 2018 Asian Games.
He has bagged seven silver medals and eight bronze medals in the South Asian Federation (SAF) Games, the top sporting event in the Indian subcontinent. Qureshi, who is currently the oldest active player in the international table tennis arena, has not only defied age, but also kept his burning desire to compete at the international level even after turning 50.
“I think my fitness is God-gifted and mentally I am strong enough to play at the highest level,” he informs. “Even if I am beaten once, I am strong enough to fight back against the same opponent.”
The evergreen man with his trademark bandana is still the national champion in his country. He won the coveted title in his country yet again earlier this year.
“It’s not easy to be the number one, I’ve had to work really hard to stay here since 1988.”
In sports and games like chess, bridge and shooting, many athletes over the age of 50 are still competing in international events. But in a sport like a table tennis, an individual needs agility, fitness and endurance along with a sound technique to play at the highest level.
Qureshi, who works for the electricity division of the Water & Power Development Authority (WAPDA) in Pakistan, elucidates, “Table Tennis is the world’s second-fastest sport after ice hockey and the game has changed a lot since I started playing in the 1980s. Apart from adapting yourself to new techniques, you have to also make yourself top-class with new shots, fast-evolving styles of play and hours and hours of practice to attain perfection.”
Although he is an indispensable part of the ping-pong community in Pakistan, Qureshi wants to see a young generation of players take his place.
However, when asked about retirement, The “Peter Pan” of table tennis in Pakistan quips, “Inshallah, jab tak fitness hai khelenge. (By Allah’s grace, I will continue as long as I am fit to play.)” —APP