Umar Hameed: Morley sprinter aiming for success at World Indoor Championships and Commonwealth Games

There is no more singular sport than sprinting but after spending most of his career putting others first Umar Hameed is finally focusing on himself.

For the 33-year-old British-born Pakistani from Leeds competes in the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade this weekend in what he hopes will be a year highlighted by representing Pakistan at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

That he is in Serbia today lining up in the heats of the 60m is something he could not have envisaged for himself a few months ago, but when the people who he traditionally helps gave him a nudge to give it one last crack, Hameed realised there was life left in the old legs yet.

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For Hameed is so much more than just a sprinter. He is an educated man, a businessman and with the way he gives back to Pakistan’s athletics community, there is an element of the philanthropic in there as well.

Morley sprinter Umar Hameed will take part in the World indoor Championships this weekend. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Ten years ago he set up a company called AIS Athletics based in Dubai and the UK that offers coaching to promising young athletes and sends Olympians into schools to deliver training sessions and motivational speeches.

“Through that we get a pot of funds that I push back into grass roots just because I know what it’s like to be at that level applying for funding,” begins Hameed.

“You’re there with nothing in your bank account thinking you’re going to need a part-time job.

“For me, part of the process is you have to give back to these guys. There’s a lot of talented athletes both in the UK and Pakistan that may never make it because they just don’t have the ability to train full-time and put their all into it.

Morley sprinter Umar Hameed. Picture: Tony Johnson.

“Within Pakistan a lot of their athletes are funded; they’re either part of the military, or the police. I chose not to be part of that set-up because it would have involved moving there, so they don’t fund me or pay me because I feel the local athletes need that funding more than I do. I can hold my hands up and say I have a privileged lifestyle, so I don’t need that funding from them.

“There’s a lot of athletes in Pakistan, some of whom I fund myself and support, and it’s really important that they get that rather than me.”

It was at one of his training camps in Dubai that an athlete he mentored, Tommy Ramdhan who is on the GB team, and Olympic sprinter Richard Kilty from Middlesbrough, convinced him he could still compete at the highest level.

Hameed had spent much of the last three years rehabilitating a ruptured Achilles tendon – he watched last summer’s Tokyo Olympics unfold while sat in a wheelchair – wondering if he’d ever get back to that level, or even have the hunger to try.

Umar Hameed's friend and training partner Richard Kilty. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

“I’ve been out with Richard and Tommy in Dubai and have used that to kickstart my own training again,” he says, “to the point where qualifying for the World Indoor Championships was a bit of a shock.

“Maybe if I’d have known earlier I’d have committed more to it.

“I feel like I’ve set myself up in the best possible way I can. I know I’m not the same athlete I was 10 years ago but the hunger and the desire is still there and if I get the opportunity to repesent my country on a global stage then I’m going to do that to the best of my ability.”

Hameed was a latecomer to athletics. Born in Halifax, he moved to Morley aged one and still calls the Leeds suburb home.

He went to Woodkirk High School, played football and cricket, but it was his speed that got him noticed.

“One of my teachers, Mr Cooper, a former international athlete himself, told me to go into athletics because I was always the fastest, whether it was the football team, the cricket team,” recalls Hameed.

“It was just natural speed with me. I started at the local club Leeds Athletics, went to high school competitions and won those, qualified for the English Schools, went to the Yorkshire championships and won those, same with the Northern championships, then finished second in the England championships.

“By 2008 I was ranked No 1 in the UK. I’ve grown up and competed against all the top British guys, Adam Gemili etc, but the main one who ended up becoming my training partner was Richard Kilty.

“Richard and I are really good friends. There was a moment when my career was going downhill, I’d had injury after injury, but I joined him and his training camp after he’d just won the world indoors in 2014.”

That was the first time Kilty got Hameed back on track, so to speak.

“Because of him I went to the South Asian Games in 2016, I was fit there and ended up winning a medal. I was also Pakistan national champion,” says Hameed.

Although British, he represents Pakistan because: “I realised early on you have to put all your eggs into one basket if you want to become a full-time professional athlete and for me I really struggled to do that; I wanted to do a Masters, I wanted to start a company, there were so many other goals I had.

“Athletics was taking a sideline. That’s when I made the decision that with both my parents being Pakistani, and me being a proud British Pakistani, there’s no greater honour than making my parents proud, so it was an easy decision for me.”

Athletics also provided a sanctuary for him. On the football fields and cricket pitches of his youth he encountered racism, but in sprinting the colour of his skin has never mattered.

“I did in school, school was tough,” he says, when asked if he encountered racism.

“There were loads of incidents where my dad had to step in. But athletics has taught me to be resilient. You have this Lombardian (revered NFL coach Vince Lombardi) ethic of a win-at-all-costs mentality, you zone out of everything else because you understand what the goal is and you learn how to focus.

“You don’t see many Asian sprinters and to be honest growing up I saw zero. I was the only one that was competing, but now there’s more from Indian Pakistani backgrounds that are on the sprinting scene.

“With athletics it’s the fastest person. If you’re first across the finishing line you’re going to make the team because they can’t deny that you’re the fastest.”

And he always had speed on his side. “When I went to Pakistan and saw the athletics set-up, I thought to myself this is for me,” he continues.

“Whether you go with GB or you go with Pakistan the outcome is the same; athletics is a very individual sport and you want to be competing at the highest level with the biggest athletes and representing Pakistan has given me the platform to do that and maximise my athletics career.”

There have been highlights – the South Asian Games of 2016; but Hameed has had more than his fair share of frustrations, none more so than in 2012 when he qualified for the London Olympics but suffered a freak injury at the University of Leeds where he was studying.

The best might be still to come, however, starting this weekend in Belgrade.

“The hope is to break the Pakistan indoor record,” says Hameed who splits his time training in the UK between the South Leeds Stadium in Leeds and Sport City in Manchester.

“I’m the current 200m record holder so I want to break the record for the 60m as well.

“The aim is to go out there and run to the best of my ability and just enjoy it.

“One thing that people forget is that everyone has different goals, not everyone can win a gold medal, some of us are there because we actually just enjoy the sport and enjoy competing, and that’s enough for us.

“Now I know the fire is still there the aim is definitely a home Commonwealth Games. That might be something I retire on.”

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