Meeting PM Modi was a big moment, notes Paralympics medalist Sumit Antil
The gold medal winner at Tokyo 2021 opened up on his training process, the modified tutelage para-athletes need and many more such things in the exclusive interview.
The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were epochal moments in track and field events for Indian athletics. Neeraj Chopra’s spectacular Gold Medal winning feat in the Olympics was followed by Sumit Antil standing atop the podium in the subsequent Paralympics. Having hurled the javelin at a distance of 68.55 meters, Antil clinched the first-place finish in the men’s F64 event in August 2021.
The 24-year-old, whose left leg is amputated, has defied convention en route to his incredible success in the previous year or so. In an exclusive chat with Khel Now, the Sonepat-based athlete opened up on several facets of his journey and on the prevalent para-sport scenario in India.
Meeting PM Modi, governmental recognition
Antil has taken a lot of heart from the recognition received from official authorities and the government since the athletes returned from Tokyo. He believes that the powers that be are laying equal focus on sportspeople engaged in para-sports. The Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna award recipient particularly spoke highly of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, whom he met along with the rest of the contingent upon their return from the Paralympics.
“Meeting PM Sir was a big moment. It felt like we had achieved something great, which is why he had called us for the high tea. He interacted with so many athletes on an individual level. He spoke to everyone at a different level. I would like to thank him for supporting para-athletes as much as he supports abled-body athletes. The government is not distinguishing between the Olympics and Paralympics at all now,” Antil said.
He also spoke about bridging the gap in the distance of javelin throws of able-bodied and para-athletes. Antil explained that common people often make irrational comparisons but asserted that acknowledgement for them will enhance as their performances get better gradually.
“The government is working very well. Things take time. It’s not possible for the Paralympics to get the same amount of recognition as the Olympics within a year. Medals are being won frequently now, the performances have been improving. It is important because normal people tend to compare. It has happened with us too wherein our distances are compared (to non-para javelin throwers). The recognition will become greater as we keep reducing that distance. It will take some time but will happen surely,” Antil said.
Should only para coaches train para-athletes?
It is a question that has been going around the sporting circuit for a while now, especially considering the monumental progress that Indian para-athletes have made recently. However, Antil completely disregards this viewpoint. He understands that every para athlete requires a modified tutelage that can be imparted by any coach.
“I don’t think that only para coaches should train para-athletes. It depends on the individual. A para-athlete is lacking in some aspects – that’s why he is in para-sports. So, coaches have to convert those weaknesses into strengths. The athlete has to get better on a daily basis regardless of that drawback. It becomes a difficult task for any coach. In that case, it doesn’t matter if he is a para coach or not,” Antil expressed.
“But yeah, as I am a para-athlete, I can understand the difficulties of my category. But, it is not like only a para coach can train us. I don’t agree with such a line of thought,” he added.
How did he deal with the pressure of the Paralympics?
Antil revealed that every athlete has to deal with pressure on the big stage like the Paralympics. However, with the help of the GoSports Foundation, he managed to cover all bases much prior to the quadrennial event. Antil underwent customized training sessions that helped him acclimatize well to the weather conditions in Tokyo. He also took several psychological lessons from experts in order to ensure that he didn’t succumb to expectations during the tournament.
“I had been taking psychological classes from Go Sports to deal with the pressure of the Paralympics as soon as my qualification for the tournament was secured. I had been doing yoga, meditation and different activities. The body had been training for four years for the competition. Now, it was time to train the mind. So we reduced the physical load to focus more on the mind. We had visualized the different situations in Tokyo – whether it was of the climate or timing,” he said.
“Sometimes the body becomes habitual to perform optimally only during a certain part of the day. So to work out at that particular time is essential. For example, my event was at 7 pm Tokyo time. So, I used to practice in India during that time period. We used to make the javelin and tracks wet and train as there were high forecasts of rainfall during my event. We had prepared for every possible circumstance or obstacle,” Antil, who holds the world record for a throw of 68.62 meters in the Indian Open National Para Athletics Championships, added.
Plans for 2023
Antil has been on a relentless run in the last two years and he is in no mood to stop anytime soon. Eyeing the World Championships next year, he said that his performances will make all the noise. He assured that the preparations are proceeding at full throttle and it is only about time that the results of the same are seen on the field.
“I have been training very hard for 2023. The expectations are high but I will let my throws speak for myself. But the practice is going on well. There are the World Championships and Asian Games to look forward to in 2023 before the Paralympics in 2024. The training is proceeding nicely and if everything goes on well then the results will be in our favour,” he signed off.