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Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games: A look at Indian athletes gunning for glory

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games are on and India is excited. The country has sent its biggest ever contingent of 54 athletes, competing in nine disciplines, to the Games — as compared to its 19-player contingent at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

With consistently good performance, the country has won 12 medals in all paralympics so far. Of these, 10, including three gold, have been from athletics. The other two are gold and bronze won in swimming and powerlifting, respectively.

Tokyo will witness the debut of badminton and taekwondo at the Paralympics, and India has players participating in both sports.

While Aruna Tanwar will be competing in taekwondo women’s K44-49-kg category, there are multiple medal hopefuls for India in badminton, too. Two-time world champion Pramod Bhagat and world no. 3 Suhas Yathiraj have the highest chance of a podium finish in badminton.

India is expecting multiple medals in shooting. While there was just one para shooter in the last edition, there are 10 in Tokyo this time.

Among the notable names is Avani Lekhara. The 19-year-old world no. 5 is competing in multiple events: R2 — women’s 10m air rifle standing SH1, R3 — mixed 10m air rifle prone SH1, R6 — mixed 50m rifle prone SH1, and R8 — women’s 50m rifle 3 positions SH1.

Meanwhile, Prachi Yadav is the first Indian para canoe to participate in the Games.

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games started on 24 August 2021 and will conclude on 5 September. Just like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Paralympic Games had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 4,403 athletes from 162 countries and territories are participating in the Tokyo Paralympics, the only city ever to host the Games twice. Have a look at some of the Indian paralympians who have performed incredibly in the past and thus are among the strongest medal hopefuls at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Devendra Jhajharia

Devendra Jhajharia Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
Image: Courtesy of Shaun Fanthome/Twitter

Event: Men’s Javelin Throw F46

Time: 07:33 AM on 30 August

One of the greatest athletes in India’s history, Jhajharia is the only Indian to have won two gold medals at the Paralympics.

With 62.15m throw, the javelin legend clinched his first gold at the Athens Games, setting a world record in 2004. His second was at Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, where he set another world record with a throw of 63.97m.

The 40-year-old’s powerful form helped him break yet another world record with a 65.71-m throw at the national selection trials earlier this year.

However, it took a lot of perseverance for Jhajharia to reach where he is today. At the age of eight, he accidentally touched a 11,000-volt live wire while playing with a friend. Doctors had to amputate his left arm up to his elbow.

Born in Rajasthan’s Churu, he is the first para-athlete to have been honoured with the Padma Shri — India’s fourth-highest civilian honour.

Though he is the strongest medal hopeful in javelin, his competitors at the event are two other Indians — the reigning world champion Sundar Singh Gurjar and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games bronze medallist Ajeet Singh Yadav.

Mariyappan Thangavelu

Mariyappan Thangavelu
Image: Courtesy of ParaAthletics/Twitter

Event: Men’s High Jump T63

Time: 03:55 PM on 31 August

The Tamil Nadu athlete had to get his right leg amputated at the age of five when he was run over by a drunk bus driver. However, a zealous Thangavelu went on to become a shining star of Indian athletics.

He bagged a gold medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games by jumping clear over a height of 1.89m, becoming the third Indian to win gold after Jhajharia and Murlikant Petkar. (Petkar won India’s only swimming paralympic gold at the 1972 Heidelberg Games.)

The 26-year-old won bronze at the 2018 Asian Para Games and the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships.

At Tokyo, Thangavelu will try to best himself and become the first Indian paralympian to win medals in successive editions. However, like Jhajharia, his strongest competition is his compatriots Varun Singh Bhati and Sharad Kumar.

Thangavelu is also a Padma Shri awardee and was honoured in 2017.

Varun Singh Bhati

Varun Singh Bhati
Image: Courtesy of Varun Singh Bhati/Twitter

Event: Men’s High Jump T63

Time: 03:55 PM on 31 August

A bronze medal winner at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, 26-year-old Bhati was diagnosed with polio in one leg at age six. He participated in the 2014 Para Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, and the 2015 Para World Championships in Doha, Qatar.

After his spectacular Rio performance, Bhati went on to win a bronze at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships in London, England, and a silver at the 2018 Asian Para Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Sundar Singh Gurjar

Sundar Singh Gurjar
Image: Courtesy of Narendra Modi/Twitter

Event: Men’s Javelin Throw F46

Time: 07:33 AM on 30 August

Gurjar poses the strongest challenge to Jhajharia in javelin. The 25-year-old lost his left hand in 2015 after a freak accident in which a metal sheet fell on him at a friend’s house.

Already into sports, Gurjar took no time to transition to paralympics and set a national record throw of 68.42m at the Para Athletics National Championships in 2016, thus becoming one of the strongest medal hopefuls for Rio.

However, he missed the opportunity at the Games when he was disqualified for arriving 52 seconds late to the call room. He slipped into depression but bounced back to win gold in three events — javelin, discus and shot put — at the 2017 Fazza IPC Athletics Grand Prix in Dubai.

He then became the first Indian para-athlete to win gold at the 2017 World Para Athletic Championships in London. He has since won a silver in javelin, a bronze in discus throw at the 2018 Asian Para Games, and successfully defended his 2017 title at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai.

Harvinder Singh

Event: Archery, Men’s individual recurve – Open (W2/ST)

Time: Qualifiers at 10.30 AM on 27 August; eliminations and finals on 3 September

The side effects of an injection took away the strength in Singh’s legs when he was only one and half years old.

Now aged 30, he has been consistently emerging as a disciplined archer. He won India’s first-ever para-archery gold at the 2018 Asian Para Games and went on to bag a bronze at the 2019 Asian Para Archery Championships in Bangkok, Thailand.

In Tokyo, he will be joined by Vivek Chikara at the same event and Rakesh Kumar, Shyam Sundar and Jyoti Baliyan at a compound event.

Sakina Khatun

Event: Powerlifting, Women’s – 50 kg

Time: 09:30 AM on 27 August

One of the most acclaimed women athletes from India, Khatun has multiple medals to her credit. Only four years after she started powerlifting, the Karnataka native bagged a bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games to became the first Indian woman para-athlete to win a medal at the sporting event.

She won a silver at the 2018 Para Asian Games and is eyeing a medal at the Paralympics.

The 32-year-old Khatun is a polio survivor. Following doctors’ advice, she took up swimming to strengthen her muscles and finally entered the world of sports.

Rubina Francis

Rubina Francis Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
Image: Courtesy of JSW Sports/Twitter

Event: P2 – Women’s 10m Air Pistol SH1

Time: Qualifiers at 06:00 AM on 31 August; finals at 08:30 AM on 31 August

Rubina Francis from Madhya Pradesh was inspired to take on shooting in 2015 following an advertisement by Gagan Narang’s Gun for Glory Shooting Academy at her school in Jabalpur.

Two years later, she took part in her first international competition — the Para Shooting World Cup in Dubai.

The 22-year-old has also participated in the 2018 Asian Para Games. The world no. 5 qualified for Tokyo at the last moment by winning gold at the Lima World Shooting Para Sport World Cup in 2021.

Pramod Bhagat

Pramod Bhagat
Image: Courtesy of Pramod Bhagat/Instagram

Event: Men’s Singles SL3 and Mixed Doubles SL3-SU5

Time: Group play matches begin on 1 September

The world no. 1 in men’s singles SL3 is undoubtedly the strongest medal hopeful in badminton for India.

The 33-year-old is a legend of the sport. He won golds in both the singles and doubles on debut at the national level in 2005 and has accumulated over 100 national and international medals.

His medal haul includes four golds at the BWF Para-Badminton World Championships.

A polio survivor, the Odisha player competed against able-bodied players at age 15.

Manoj Sarkar

Manoj Sarkar Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
Image: Courtesy of Manoj Sarkar/Instagram

Event: Men’s Singles SL3

To be held on: Group play matches begin 1 September

The 31-year-old from Uttarakhand is the world no. 3 in the men’s singles SL3 category. Like his compatriot Bhagat, Sarkar is an accomplished name in the world of badminton. He has won multiple gold, silver and bronze medals at World Championships and Asian Para Games.

Polio affected his right leg when Sarkar was just a year old, which developed into a post-polio residual paralysis [PPRP] lower limb condition due to improper treatment.

Though he has not been able to defeat Bhagat in their previous encounters, Sarkar would surely aim to win the gold, even if he meets the more experienced Indian shuttler in the final.

For India, it would be a win-win game.

All timings IST.

Main and Featured images: Paralympic Games/Twitter

Manas Sen Gupta
Manas enjoys reading detective fiction and writing about anything that interests him. When not doing either of the two, he checks Instagram for the latest posts by travellers. Winter is his favourite season and he can happily eat a bowl of noodles any time of the day.