LIFE is a collection of moments. One minute you are revered, receiving phone calls from the Prime Minister and being bestowed hero status by the nation, the next you are curled up in a heap on the floor, screaming as police kick and punch you, the thwack of their batons leaving broken bones as well as mental and physical bruising.
The Queen’s Baton left Buckingham Palace this week to begin its journey through 70 Commonwealth nations and territories ahead of the Glasgow 2014 Opening Ceremony on 23 July.
The previous host, India, welcomed it on Friday and it will travel to Bangladesh tomorrow, before being carried to Pakistan and Sri Lanka this week: a variety of nations, a common drive for medals and some very individual stories.
Bangladesh has only competed at six Commonwealth Games. It has secured only five medals. All of them have been won in shooting and three of them have been won by Asif Hossain Khan.
The first was a solo gold, at the 2002 Games in Manchester, the second and third were a silver and bronze in pairs events, in Melbourne and Delhi. In a country where cricket dominates the sporting landscape, when it comes to the Commonwealth Games, it is in the shooting where they find their idols.
Khan was elevated to such status as a raw 15-year-old. Since then there have been ups and downs. It is a life he describes as a “little bit interesting”, hopefully made more so by adding to his medal haul in Glasgow.
“In 2002 it was great to represent my country but at that time I was so young and when I competed my coach told me ‘you have nothing to lose’, but when I finished my qualifying round and I was fifth, and I thought maybe if I could do something with my final shot then maybe I can achieve bronze or maybe silver.”
With nerves of steel, he pulled off a near perfect shot and leapfrogged everyone to take the gold.
“I got a lot of love and encouragement from everyone and my mother and father, my family and my school were very proud. Everyone in the country honoured me.”
The country’s Prime Minister at that time, Khaleda Zia, made contact to thank him and congratulate him, while the president of the Olympic Association gave him a new air rifle. He went on to become the first shooter to represent Bangladesh at the Olympics.
“But every medal I have got I have had to work very hard for. In private there is hard work and physical and mental effort.”
In Melbourne in March 2006 that toil earned its reward, this time with a silver medal in the air rifle pairs, along with Anjan Kumer Singha. It helped cement his status back home but just six months later that counted for nothing as he was brutally assaulted to such an extent that his shooting career was left hanging in the balance.
According to reports at the time, Khan had been practising at the National Shooting Complex in Dhaka when a disagreement over a parking space escalated into something far more sinister. A chauffeur-driven car carrying the wife of a senior police officer was asked to move to a proper parking space by a security guard and when a skirmish broke out police officers swarmed the complex and started beating anyone they found in the building.
Khan tried to use his status as a Commonwealth gold medallist to calm the situation but said that only provoked more anger in the police, who beat him more ferociously and left him needing hospital treatment after his arms, legs, back and feet were injured.
“I decided then to quit, to leave my country. I was so sad, I wanted to live abroad. I found it really, really difficult to recover mentally and physically. I hurt my leg, my feet and my arm and I still have pain in my back and my feet. After sleeping, I cannot touch the ground immediately, I have to wait two, maybe five minutes, every morning until my feet can feel and I can stand and sometimes, after I have been shooting for one or two hours, I have real pain in my back and that makes it difficult for me to practise and compete.”
He still lives in Bangaladesh but does spend time abroad training, in Germany and in China, and although the criminal case took six years, it has now reached a conclusion that Khan can live with. “Finally, last year the people responsible were condemned for what they did. But still sometimes I have great depression.”
He says he recognises the signs and he has people he can consult with and courses of treatment to help him cope with the anguish. But he also has his shooting.
In the immediate aftermath of the police attack, he says he considered giving it up. But now he is enjoying his sport as much as ever. It was a sport he fell into by accident, having been keener on athletics as a child. “Cricket is the tradition and when I was younger I did cricket, soccer, hockey and athletics but now I just watch.”
Plucked from an athletics programme at the national sports institute of Bangladesh as a teenager, after his promise as a shooter shone out at inter-club championships, he says he switched focus out of a sense of duty rather than any major love for the sport. But it has brought him success and medals and the thought of representing his country appeals again. And despite dipping his toe into the world of coaching, he is still practising his own skills, intent on making it to Glasgow.
Now 26, he has been written off several times as up and coming kids have challenged him. But he has again picked up the gauntlet and last December he won the National Championships.
“I still want more success. I will see you in Glasgow,” he says. After everything he has been through, one could argue that positivity is a bigger achievement than any medal.