Pakistan targeting medals in Delhi

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The Independent Online

After reaching two doubles finals at the U.S. Open, Aisamul Haq Qureshi is under pressure at home to win a tennis medal for Pakistan in a below-strength field for the Commonwealth Games tournament.

Pakistan is targeting medals in seven sports when the games start Sunday, despite little international exposure for its athletes to prepare for the event.

The 38-year-old weightlifter Shujauddin Malik will be making a comeback after two years out with a foot injury and is hoping to repeat his gold-medal winning performance from Melbourne four years ago.

Qureshi, who made the men's doubles and mixed doubles finals at the U.S. Open earlier this month, will try to bring more smiles to the faces of his compatriots by doing well at New Delhi. Another medal contender is 19-year-old Haroon Khan — younger brother of WBA champion Amir Khan — who will be part of six-member Pakistan boxing contingent.

Shooters got some practice abroad and went to Germany on a training tour, while the hockey team played against some European teams to tune themselves.

"We are participating in only those events in which we think we have some chance to win medal," Pakistan Olympic Association chief Arif Hasan told the Associated Press. Squash players and wrestlers should also contend for medals, he said, adding that Pakistan wouldn't compete in sports where it had no prospects of success.

"In Asia the standard of wrestling is very good, but countries who are coming in for the Commonwealth Games, I hope our wrestlers have a good chance," he said.

Nine Pakistani track and field athletes failed doping tests during training camps for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games this year, including javelin thrower Mohammad Imran.

However, Hasan said doping was not behind Pakistan's non-participation in the track and field events of Commonwealth Games.

Doping "is not the reason at all," Hasan said. "We realize that our athletes could not match the timings of international standards in track and field events."

Pakistan's Cuban boxing coach Francisco Hernandez Roldan had seen his boxers doing well at this year's South Asian Federation Games, but said more international exposure could have given his team better preparation.

"It is unfortunate that there aren't many teams coming to Pakistan due to security problems," Roldan said. "Despite only one international competition (SAF Games) I hope that we will do in the six categories we are participating."

For Haroon, the Commonwealth Games will be his first major event under the Pakistan flag as he has represented England in few junior competitions.

He attended the trials at Karachi at the invitation of Pakistani authorities, and joined the training camp at Islamabad in late July.

"I've learnt Asian and European styles of boxing and it will be an honor for me to represent Pakistan," he said.

Mohammad Wasim, 21, will fight in the 49kg category and won a gold medal at the Combat Games in China last month.

The Pakistan hockey team returns to the same city where it finished last in a 12-team field in the World Cup earlier this year.

Since then, they have played against Spain, the Netherlands, Poland and some Belgian clubs on their European tours — none of which will be their opponents in Commonwealth Games.

Pakistan is grouped with world champion Australia, host India, Malaysia and Scotland in Group A and it will be tough to qualify for the semifinal.

Pakistan's best bet perhaps is on its weightlifters Malik, Sajjad Amin Malik and Khurram Shahzad.

However, the six-member team was hamstrung slightly in its preparations when it struggled to get proper shoes for the New Delhi competition and had no other choice but to get their old pair of shoes repaired at a local market for the training camp at Islamabad.

"Our main problem is these old shoes due to which our athletes are feeling pain in their ankles," said coach Rashid Mahmood.

Malik dug out the shoes he wore to win gold in Melbourne four years ago in his recent training.

"It's a matter of around $1,500 to get six pairs of proper weightlifting shoes, but we don't know whether we would get it before the team leaves for New Delhi," Mahmood said.