The country clinched a record 19 medals at the quadrennial event.
The recently concluded 2020 Tokyo Paralympics tuned out to be a momentous event in Indian sporting history. The Indian para athletes won a record-breaking 19 medals in Tokyo (five gold, eight silver and six bronze). Prior to Tokyo 2020, India had won a combined 12 medals since the inception of the tournament in 1960.
The phenomenal achievement of the Indian contingent guided the nation to finish at the 24th place in the medal standings. After a record-breaking Olympics campaign, the Paralympics can also prove to be a significant chapter in the years to come.
Bringing para sports into the limelight
The entire nation was captivated by the Indian athletes’ exploits at the Tokyo Olympics. Despite comparatively less attention, the Indian para athletes have made their countrymen take notice.
It all started with Bhavina Patel’s remarkable run on the way to claiming a silver medal in table tennis. Javelin thrower Sumit Antil followed suit as he broke the world record an astonishing five times on the way to winning the gold medal. Followed by that, Avani Lekhara also bagged two medals in the same edition. A big shoutout also goes to Pramod Bhagat, who celebrated his badminton gold medal by bouncing in excitement and hugging his coach.
These were some of the highlights of the Tokyo Paralympics for India. The para athletes are finally getting the long-awaited adulation, something that they didn’t always receive in the past.
Continuing India’s rise in athletics events
India finally ended their long drought for an Olympic medal in athletics in Tokyo. Neeraj Chopra ended the wait in style, as he clinched a gold medal in men’s javelin throw. This was followed by budding Indian athletes winning three medals in the World Athletics U20 Championships, which was also the country’s best tally of all-time.
At the Tokyo Paralympics, the trend continued. Eight out of India’s 19 medals came in athletics events. Sumit Antil was the pick of the bunch, winning the gold medal in the men’s javelin throw F64. There were a flurry of silver medals from Nishad Kumar, Praveen Kumar, Yogesh Kathuniya, Devendra Jhajaria and Mariyappan Thangavelu. The Indian contingent also pocketed a couple of bronze medals, courtesy of Sharad Kumar and Sundar Singh Gurjar.
The performances of the Indian athletes at the Tokyo Paralympics further confirms the fact that Indian athletes can compete with the very best on the biggest stage. After years of underachievement and near misses, the Indian athletes are finally delivering where it matters the most.
Changing the mindset of the society
Prior to the Tokyo Paralympics, archer Harvinder Singh had opened up about the difficulties he had to face in order to reach the highest level. In India, a differently-abled person has to deal with the social stigma. The same applies to para athletes as well, especially if they belong to villages or small towns.
Harvinder’s life turned on its head after he won the gold medal at the Asian Para Games in 2018. People in his village now started to cite his example and tell their children to do something different like Harvinder. A bronze medal at the Tokyo Paralympics will further enhance his stature and reputation. The archer is just an example and most para athletes go through the same phase in India until they go onto achieve success. This will likely change in many regions of the country now, after the Tokyo Paralympics exploits.
Every Paralympic athlete is an inspirational figure. They are special in their own way, and they deserve the same amount of support as an able-bodied athlete. Prime Minister Narendra Modi echoed the sentiments of the nation when he tweeted, “In the history of Indian sports, Tokyo Paralympics will always have a special place. The games will remain etched in the memory of every Indian and will motivate generations of athletes to pursue sports. Every member of our contingent is a champion and source of inspiration.”
Age is just a number
At the elite level in sports, the age of an athlete becomes significant as one has to compete against the very best across all age groups. However, at the Tokyo Paralympics, the Indian athletes proved that age hardly matters if you have the drive and desire to succeed. 18-year-old Praveen Kumar won a silver medal in men’s high jump T64 in his maiden appearance. In doing so, he became the youngest Indian ever to win a Paralympic medal. Another teenager Avani Lekhara became the first-ever Indian woman to clinch multiple Paralympic medals.
On the flip side, Devendra Jhajaria showed his hunger for success at a ripe age of 40. The legendary javelin thrower brought home a silver medal this time. 39-year-old Singhraj also proved his mettle by grabbing two medals at the Tokyo Paralympics. The shooter won a silver and a bronze medal in the mixed 50m pistol SH1 and 10m air pistol SH1 categories respectively. Therefore, the Tokyo Paralympics teaches us to never give up on our dreams, no matter how old or young we are.
No dearth of idols for next-gen para athletes
Several members of the Indian contingent were once unaware that there was something called para sports. This is why many of them were introduced to their respective sports at a late age. However, the scenario completely changes after the Tokyo Paralympics.
The para athletes will receive a memorable welcome upon landing in India. Several differently-abled youngsters will also be motivated to take up sports now. Gone are the days when India used to return empty-handed from the Paralympic Games. This current crop of athletes has set a very high benchmark.
Having witnessed the para-athletes do wonders in Tokyo, a whole new bunch will be waiting in the wings for their opportunity to shine. In Paris 2024, India can well go on and topple this remarkable mark and continue the quest to make India a global sporting superpower.