Sports

India’s medal rush in Paralympics


Sumit Antil

He broke World records for fun en route to a gold medal in the F64 men’s javelin throw. His own World record, that is. And he did it three times over at Tokyo. His series of throws read an impressive 66.95m, 68.08m, 65.27m, 66.71m and 68.55m before fouling his final attempt. His victory came after India won the silver and bronze in F46 men’s javelin through Devendra Jhajharia and Sundar Singh Gurjar. And of course, before that, in the same city, Neeraj Chopra had won India’s historic gold medal with his javelin at the Olympics. After the spectacular success of India’s Paralympic athletes, the event is bound to attract the attention of even more Indians.

Javelin wasn’t the sporting event that first drew Antil’s attention. He wanted to be a wrestler. Not unusual for someone coming from Haryana.

A bike accident in 2015, when he was 17, shattered his dreams. His left leg below the knee had to be amputated. But, Rajkumar, another para-athelete, made him realise that he could continue to chase his sports ambitions, after all. Those dreams attained a golden hue in Tokyo.

Gold medallist Manish Narwal of India celebrates on the podium next to silver medallist Singhraj of India after the men’s 50m pistol SH1 final at Tokyo Paralympics.   –  REUTERS

 

Manish Narwal

The boy from Faridabad wanted to be a footballer. Lionel Messi was his hero. But a congenitally-impaired hand meant he could not pursue his dream on a football ground. A friend of his father told him that the boy could try shooting. It turned out to be an invaluable piece of advice. Today, he is a gold medallist at the Paralympics, at the age of 19.

He came on top of the field in the men’s 50m pistol SH1 with a score of 218.2, a new Paraympics record. He also holds the World record in the event (229.1 points) which he had set at the Para Shooting World Cup in the UAE in March. His gold came after Avani Lekhara’s triumph in the women’s 10m air rifle standing SH1 event.

It had all begun for Narwal when his father took him to a shooting range at Ballabgarh five years ago. There he met coach Rakesh Thakur, who convinced him that he could achieve glory outside a football ground, too.

Gold medalist Pramod Bhagat of Team India poses on the podium at the medal ceremony for the Men’s Singles SL3 on day 11 of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Yoyogi National Stadium on September 04, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)   –  Getty Images

 

Pramod Bhagat

Badminton made its Paralympics debut at Tokyo. And India benefited immensely, winning two gold medals, a sliver and a bronze. It was Pramod Bhagat who gave India its first gold in the new event at the Paralympics. He triumphed in the men’s singles in the SL3 class, defeating Great Britain’s Daniel Bethel in the final. The 33-year-old won 21-14, 21-17. He had beaten the Briton in the final of the 2019 World championship in Switzerland, too. That was his second singles title at the World championship; the first had come in 2015. In 2017, he had won the bronze. He also has in his large collection of World championship medals, two golds and a silver in men’s doubles. He was the men’s singles champion at the Asian Para Games in 2018.

He lived up to his reputation in Tokyo, where he dropped only one game in his entire campaign. That aberration came in the group game, against fellow-Indian Manoj Sarkar, who would go on to win the bronze. Life had been tough for Bhagat, whose left leg was affected by polio. His parents could not even afford to buy a racquet for him. He was then adopted by his uncle, who took him to Bhubaneswar. Things began to look up for him after that.

Krishna Nagar of India defeated Man Kai Chu of Hong Kong to win the gold medal in the men’s singles SH6 final.   –  REUTERS

 

Krishna Nagar

A day after Pramod Bhagat gave India its first gold in badminton at the Paralympics, Nagar Krishna doubled that count. He won the SH6 men’s singles gold with a hard-earned victory in the final against Hong Kong’s Chu Man Kai. The 22-year-old from Jaipur won in three games — 21-17, 16-21, 21-17. Before the gold-medal clash, he hadn’t lost a single game though, as he brushed past the challenges from Didin Taresoh of Malaysia, Brazilian Victor Goncalves Tavares and Great Britain’s Krysten Coombs.

The victory tasted particularly sweet for Krishna, for whom life has not been an easy journey after being diagnosed with dwarfism. He said he had been bullied and taunted and that there were people who said he would not be able to achieve anything in life because of his lack of height. He added that his gold was the answer to those who questioned people with disabilities. Surely, one could not have come up with a better answer than a gold at the Paralympics. It was in 2017 that he began to train in badminton after dabbling in athletics. Within a year, he won a bronze at the 2018 Asian Para Games and then a silver and bronze at the World championship in the following year.

Mariyappan Thangavelu, who won the silver medal in the men’s high jump event at the Paralympics, arrived in Chennai airport to a warm welcome.   –  VELANKANNI RAJ B

 

Mariyappan Thangavelu

He could not retain the gold he won at the last Paralympics, but the 26-year-old from Salem did the next best thing. He won the silver in the T63 men’s high jump at Tokyo, clearing 1.86m. It was a superb effort from him, considering the fact that he had been quarantining after coming in close contact with a fellow-passenger who tested positive for COVID-19. He had to undergo tests regularly himself, but the results were negative. He, however, lost out on the opportunity to be India’s flag-bearer at Tokyo. That honour went to Tek Chand.

Such setbacks aren’t unusual for Thangavelu, who was brought up by a single mother, a daily-wage labourer. When he was five, a bus had run over his right leg while he was walking to his school. The permanent disability didn’t stop him from taking part in sport at school, though. He began with volleyball, but a physical education teacher asked him to try out high jump. Soon, he began to aim high.

Praveen Kumar

When he went down with COVID-19 in April, the Tokyo Paralympics may have looked a bit farther than it actually was. But, the 18-year-old son of a poor farmer near Noida was in no mood to give up. He recovered and made his own arrangements for training in the hard, pandemic times. He built a small pit near his home, filling it up with mud. Ever since he learnt about the Paralympics, he had been wanting to compete in it.

Praveen, who suffers from a congenital condition which affects the bone to his left leg, went to coach Satyapal Singh in 2018, after competing at local competitions. That proved a turning point. A silver medal at the World junior championship in 2019 announced his arrival. In February this year, he won the gold at the World Para Grand Prix in Dubai, with a new Asian record (2.05m). He jumped even higher at Tokyo (2.07m) to take the silver.

Singhraj

Only two Indians climbed up the podium twice at the Tokyo Paralympics. While 19-year-old Avani Lekhara shot clinched a historic gold (women’s 50m air rifle standing SH1) and then a bronze (women’s 50m rifle three positions SH1), her much older compatriot failed to strike gold. But for someone who turned 39 at the beginning of the year and who took up shooting only five years ago, it wasn’t a bad outing at all in Tokyo. The Faridabad shooter’s silver came in the Mixed 50m pistol HI and the bronze in the Men’s P1 10m air pistol H1.

It was after accompanying his nephew to a shooting range that he became interested in the sport. He had earlier thought of becoming a swimmer, as there was a pool in his building, but felt too ashamed to take off his clothes. He soon found that shooting was an expensive sport and even had to sell his wife’s jewellery to pursue his dream. But he made up for it by winning two medals in Tokyo.

Suhas Yathiraj

The scene would have looked straight out of a movie. A district collector, after inaugurating the badminton tournament, asks the organisers whether he could also participate in it. Not merely did he play, but he defeated some State-level players of Uttar Pradesh. Badminton, Suhas now felt, could be more than a hobby. He began to take lessons from coaches and trained hard, even while performing his demanding duties as an IAS officer.

The multi-tasking bureaucrat is now a Paralympic medal-winner. He took the silver in the SH4 badminton men’s singles. The 38 year-old, who was born with an ankle deformity, had put up a valiant fight for the gold. He had, in fact, taken the first set against Frenchman Lucas Mazur, before losing the final 21-15, 17-21, 15-21. Before going to Tokyo, the Karanataka-born, UP-cadre officer had been leading the COVID-19 management at Gautam Buddh Nagar as the district’s collector. That didn’t leave him much time for the training, some of which was done over phone by India’s chief para-badminton coach Gaurav Khanna.

Harvinder Singh   –  Getty Images

 

Harvinder Singh

He is fond of the Hindi proverb “Mehnat itni khamoshi se karo ki safalta shor macha de”(Work hard so quietly that success makes the noise). Harvinder’s success did make quite some noise at Tokyo, where he won India its first ever Paralympic medal in archery. He clinched the bronze in the ST men’s individual recurve after beating Kim Min Su of South Korea in a thrilling encounter that was decided in the shoot-off, in which he came up with a perfect 10.

The conditions had been far from perfect though for the 30-year-old archer’s preparations for Tokyo. Because of the pandemic, he had to turn his farm in his village in Haryana into his practice venue, where he would shoot about 150 arrows in a day. Harvinder, who had suffered impairment to his left leg after contracting dengue fever when he was little, had been aiming for glory in Tokyo for a long time. Without making any noise at all, that is.

Sharad Kumar

On the day before his final, he suffered a knee injury. He wept through the night and feared he might even have to pull out from the final of the T42 men’s high jump final. When he called up home, his father asked him to read Bhagavat Gita and to focus on what he could do and not on what he had no control over. He decided to compete but had to be careful about his knee. To make matters worse, it rained. For someone who had suffered paralysis in his left leg because of polio at the age of two, facing challenges like that was nothing new.

The 29-year-old from Bihar could not come close to his gold-medal winning effort at the 2018 Para Asian Games of 1.90m, but his 1.83m was good enough for the bronze. And it proved a 2-3 for India, as Mariyappan Thangavelu won the silver. It was the first Paralympic medal for Sharad, who could only finish sixth in the 2016 edition at Rio.

Manoj Sarkar won the bronze medal in the men’s singles SL3 category para badminton in Tokyo.   –  Getty Images

 

Manoj Sarkar

He played with able-bodied players till he was in Class XI. So when he began to compete in para badminton on the advice of coach D.K. Sen, he found it easier. The coach told him he could play for India. Sarkar did even better. He won a medal in Paralympics for India. The 31-year-old from Uttarakhand defeated Japan’s Daisuke Fujihara 22-20, 21-13 to take the bronze in the SL3 badminton men’s singles at Tokyo.

Though he was diagnosed with post-polio residual paralysis of the lower limb when he was just one, he did not allow his condition to affect him. After taking up badminton at the age of five, he proved he could match many of his able-bodied rivals. He won his first international title in 2013, when he won the SL3 men’s doubles title at the Para-Badminton World championship at Dortmund. His partner was Pramod Bhagat, who would go on to win the gold at Tokyo.

 



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