Ali is only 17 years old but the Australia-born young expatriate is offering realistic hope to the ailing sport of gymnastics in the country
Since USA-born athlete Syque Caeser’s venture in Bangladesh concluded over half a decade ago, the Bangladesh Gymnastics Federation has not unearthed another gymnast to dream big until very recently.
Ali Kader Haque is only 17 years old but the Australia-born young expatriate is offering realistic hope to the ailing sport of gymnastics in the country
What separates Ali from the Bangladesh-based gymnasts is the support he gets from the family and community, and the modern facilities and continuous practice opportunities on offer.
He also had a dedicated mentor for the last 12 years.
Ali’s specialty is in floor exercise and vaulting table whereas it was parallel bars and high bar where Caeser excelled.
In those two events, Ali already achieved four top-podium finishes in two international competitions.
The presence of him as well as his coach David Michael Colvin inspired the whole youth contingent at the Singapore Open 2019 as Bangladesh bagged as many as 13 gold medals in different age categories.
It was also the same year that Ali got hold of his new Bangladesh passport.
The link between Ali and Bangladesh was through Akram Haque, who is better known as Aki.
Akram was born in a middle-class family at Malibagh Chowdhury Para.
He used to play football in school and college life while growing up in Dhaka city before migrating to Sydney in the 1990s.
There he married Nicky Jenkins, a New Zealander, without whom Akram said Ali’s continuation and devotion to gymnastics would not have been possible.
In 2004, Ali was only a year old when the family made their new home in New Zealand’s Christchurch, a place that recently caught the attention for a rare negative incident of a mosque attack.
The mosque is a 20-minute drive from Ali’s house.
Not only the barbaric attack, Ali’s family also survived two major earthquakes a few years earlier and those memories still shook Aki’s voice over phone.
The couple both work; Nicky is a chef and runs a small business producing gourmet products while Akram runs a large neighborhood restaurant.
They put both children into local gym classes at a young age, believing that whatever sport their children chose, gymnastics would improve their balance, hand – eye coordination and rhythm.
Their oldest son, Kiron, chose to play football at school and was selected for the first team of high school.
At 20, he still plays club football.
Ali however, wanted to continue gymnastics.
Once he started school, Ali was ready for a greater challenge and got enrolled in a recreational class at Olympia School of Gymnastics.
“His coach spotted his potential and asked if he would like to join the competitive squad. His training increased as he rose through the levels and he now trains 20 or more hours a week, alongside his school studies,” said Akram.
The accident and miraculous return
Ali’s career took a precarious turn just weeks before his first national competition.
Ali fell awkwardly at school, dislocating his elbow and chipping the ulna bone.
This required surgery to reset his elbow and pin the bone.
After two months of physiotherapy, Ali was still not able to straighten his arm and his parents were advised that it might be permanently bent.
“We wondered if this would be the end of Ali’s competitive gymnastics. But both Ali and David were not ready to give up and gradually Ali began training again. Twelve months after his accident the doctors were stunned by the improvement of movement he regained through his training,” Aki told Dhaka Tribune.
Such comeback is indeed considered quite astonishing for any gymnast.
Ali competed in many local competitions including six national championships.
Most recently, Ali placed second in the all-around, floor, vault and parallel bars, and third on pommel horse and horizontal bar at the 2019 New Zealand National Championships.
“I visited Dhaka in 2008 but never thought he would represent my country. The whole idea came from Ali in recent years. He wanted to play for Bangladesh because it is extremely difficult and expensive to participate in international events as a New Zealander. He needed more competitions and participations to enrich his experience. I respect his motivation and also felt proud. So I started making calls to my friends in Bangladesh,” said Akram.
BGF responded quite positively when contacted last year.
Aki continued, “There was another request from us which was to keep Ali’s coach David for better outcomes and more advantages.”
Both Akram and BGF are full of praise for David, a Welsh coach who took Ali to the UK and Portugal for better taste in training with the Olympians.
Ali received his new passport soon afterwards.
He participated in three international competitions representing Bangladesh achieving a total of four first-place finishes in the floor and vault event finals, two at the 5th Junior Budapest Cup in Hungary and two at Singapore Open 2019.
“There were no event finals at Junior World Championship (Hungary 2019) but competing there was a ‘huge achievement’ for Ali. He found the experience enriching after meeting and watching incredible gymnasts around the world,” said Aki.
It has not enriched Ali only but the presence encouraged the whole Bangladesh team as it garnered plenty of golds in Singapore Open last year.
“When David and Ali joined it created like a wave and the full team got inspired to achieve such unprecedented success,” admitted former national gymnast, coach and current BGF executive member Habibur Rahman Jamil.
“Ali is very much motivated. David is also a dedicated coach and appreciated working for Bangladesh. David gave him time, space and platform to come back after severe injury. We keep regular contact. Ali often sends videos, from which I can say he made amazing improvement in the last six months,” Jamil added.
Two international competitions in Ukraine and Singapore Ali was scheduled to participate in this year got postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but he hasn’t stopped training.
His parents gave a post on social media seeking high bar from the community to carry on practice at home during lockdown.
The post got positive response.
Ali will step into senior level next year.
Qatar World Championship 2021 could be his first shot at acquiring qualifying quota for the postponed Tokyo Olympics.
BGF however, has set the target for 2024 Olympics by the time it hopes Ali would be more mature and qualified.
“For now we are focusing on Commonwealth Games. The goal is set for Olympic 2024 with four-year plan. It’s like a team work with Ali and his coach who also have same targets. We want him to qualify for the Olympics by following the calendar and stepping up methodologically. It has to be ensured he plays as many tournaments as possible,” said BGF general secretary Ahmedur Rahman Bablu.
All Bangladesh athletes including Caeser always went to the Olympics through wildcards except golfer Siddikur Rahman and archer Mohammad Ruman Shana, who qualified for the 2016 and 2020 (postponed) Olympics respectively by their own efforts.
A Bangladesh-origin Russian gymnast Margarita Mamun won gold at the Rio Olympics 2016 which may give ray of hope to BGF regarding Ali’s novel venture in the making.