Indian Paralympic trio create history by ranking world number 1, 2 and 3 in High Jump
India’s 19 member strong Paralympic contingent is all set to begin their campaign on September 8 with world number 6 lifter Farman Basha in the Power lifting event. However, an uncanny first in the country’s relatively rich sporting history has crept under the radar.
The T-42 category is defined as any specific disability below the waist which has affected the functioning of one leg. Tamil Nadu’s Mariyappan Thangavelu, Uttar Pradesh’s Varun Bhati and Bihar’s Sharad Kumar are ranked world number 1, 2 and 3 respectively in this category. Unknowingly, the trio have created history as this would be the first time that India heads into an international competitive multi-sport event placed 1, 2 and 3 in the world.
In fact, certain statistics about the Paralympic contingent highlight their chances to outdo our able-bodied Olympic participant. Approximately, 72% of the participants are ranked within number 10 in the world. The Men’s Club Throw has world number 2 Amit Saroha, Men’s Javelin has another world rank 2 in Sundar Singh Gurjar, followed closely by 2004 Athens Gold medallist Devendra Jhajharia in third spot.
Among the women, Deepa Malik is the highest ranked competitor in the Women’s Shotput registering a ranking of 7 in the world.
The table given below highlights how India could win as many as six medals solely based on their rankings.
T11 1500 m
T42 High Jump
Varun Singh Bhati
T47 High Jump
F55 Discus Throw
Men's Javelin F46
Sundar Singh Gurjar
Men’s Javelin F44
Men's Club Throw F51
Amit Kumar Saroha
Men's Shotput F57
Women's Shotput F53
Powerlifting- Men's 49kg
The wonderkid looking to achieve a childhood dream - Varun Bhati
Sportskeeda got in touch with Varun Bhati, who is currently preparing for the big jump in Rio on September 10. He said, “I cannot specifically tell you why people are not talking about us, what I can tell you is you can’t blame the mass. First one needs to know about the existence of Para-athletics as a competitive sport in the country. I challenge you, if you ask anyone on the road what it is, no one will know. So until we educate them we won’t know. I’m heading into this competition with some good form actually, so I’m quite confident of medalling. All three of us participate in the same category and we are almost like brothers, hence we don’t see it as competition. Our goal is to win gold, silver, bronze and we have managed that till now.”
The 21-year old has had two consistent years of top notch performances. Before heading to Rio, Varun won gold in the IPC World Athletics Championship in Dubai. A month before, he lost out to compatriot Mariyappan at the Berlin Open, after setting three event records among them. He said, “Field events have always been the go to sport when it comes to Para in India. Be it Devendra or be it Girisha, our medals have come from there only. We are only adding to what was laid down, but it is a bit disappointing that we will not be showcased on TV. All the countries are following a similar process for Paralympics like the Olympics. So it is a bit disappointing! In Berlin, I missed out narrowly, but the crowd gave both me and Mariyappana a standing ovation for our final fight. We just went on clearing jump after jump, it gave us both immense confidence for Rio.”
Varun was a victim of untreated Polio at a very young age, thus losing the ability to move his right leg completely. However, this was the last thing that would deter him. He said, “What has happened has happened, I have always been a goal oriented individual. And I don’t like anything to stop me from achieving them. I was always into sports as a child and never stopped because of this. Slowly I realised that this is what I want to do in life.”
The current Asian record holder won his first international medal at the China Grand Prix in 2014 and hasn’t looked back since. In 2015, he finished 5th at the Asian Championship, before peaking at the right time in 2016.
Two gold medals and one silver has seen him rise to second in the world rankings, narrowly behind Mariyappan. He said, “I currently train in Bengaluru, that’s where all us high jumpers train actually. This is our one shot, this is the one time in four years we have a little bit of media coverage. If we don’t make it now then we can’t be as popular as the Olympic athletes. When I was in Jamalpur, I just dreamt going to the Paralympics one day, and now I’m here. The next goal is to win.”
The comeback king with a point to prove: Sharad Kumar
The third among the trio, Sharad is arguably the most experienced jumper among the three. In 2012, two months prior to the London Olympics, the Bengaluru based athlete was banned for using steroids.
However, he made a swift comeback by winning gold at the Asian Para Games in 2014. In fact, prior to Varun, Shard held the Asian record of 1.80 m in the T-42 category for almost one and a half years. Another Polio victim due to non-treatment, Sharad first took up high jump while studying in St. Pauls school, Darjeeling. Apart from his jumping, the 24-year old has a keen interest in studying International Relations, after completing his post-graduation from Jawaharlal Nehru University.
He told Sportskeeda, “When I was banned for using steroids for two years, I was deeply hurt, because I ingested it unknowingly. Since the day I was banned till I started competing again, all I thought about is High Jump. I realised it was my life and to be the best in it is something I’ve always wanted to do. Throwing it away so easily isn’t something that I wanted to do. In school, it gave me pride and joy that I could defeat my able-bodied friends. It was the only thing that took away sympathy as a tool for reinforcing our disability. I wanted that in my life, now that I’ve got it, nothing but gold is enough.”
The reigning Asian Games champion is the least likely to win gold among the three, but if Sharad can replicate his recent form, there is no reason why India can complete a 1, 2 and 3 for the first time in any international multi-sport event.
The vegetable seller‘s son who wants to pay off his medical loan: Mariyappan Thangavelu
The youngest among the three is Mariyappan Thangavelu, who jumped 1.78 m to secure gold at the IPC World Athletics Championship in Dubai. He also won gold at the IPC Tunisia Grand Prix this year, underlining himself as the man to beat in Rio. At just 20, Mariyappan has achieved the world number 1 ranking in his very first year of senior level competition.
Born in the Periavadamgatti village, 50 km away from Salem, Mariyappan met with an accident aged just five. He was on his way to school, when a bus went off road, crushing his right leg in the process. His mother is a vegetable seller back in the village, who mortgaged her house to pay Rs 3 lakhs for his treatment.
He said, “I might be world number 1, but things back home are pretty bad. My mother is still paying off the debt, and I hardly earn anything so I have nothing to contribute. But sometimes life is bigger than that no? I have a new lease of life and if I don’t use it bring glory for my nation then what’s the point? If I get gold in Rio, then maybe I can get a job which could pay off this particular loan.”
It was only last year that the Tamil Nadu jumper was introduced to junior level competition. It was SAI coach Satyanarayana who discovered his potential and asked him to join his entourage of athletes. Now that entire group is among the top three in the world, something that Satyanarayana himself wasn’t aware of.
He said, “I actually just realised this when you told me, now that I see it on your phone, I realise that the rankings have been updated. Prior to this Varun was on top of the world rankings, so I’m quite surprised. The thing about Mariyappan is that he has already seen so much hardship in life, plus he is dedicated. Raw talent with dedication is always a win-win situation. I first spotted him at the junior championship in 2013, I immediately realised that this guy can be the best. I saw him jump 1.74 in front of me. In juniors, jumpers don’t cross 1.60, so I was quite surprised. So it’s not a shocker that he is ranked number 1, it was bound to happen.”
All three jumpers share a bond like no other, but all of them have a different reason win at the Paralympics. Regardless of the result in Rio, the trio should be celebrated for a record which is likely to be never repeated again.