Mariyappan Thangavelu is an Indian Paralympic legend. After storming into the record books by winning a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, he won silver in the high jump event (T63) at the Tokyo Paralympics and etched his name in the history books.
The road to Tokyo, however, was not all rosy. After having to endure a tough year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mariyappan didn’t let his focus wander and was all geared up for the Games.
In what could have been a fitting tribute, the para-athlete was named India’s flagbearer for the opening ceremony at the Tokyo Paralympics. However, after coming into a close contact with a COVID-19 positive co-passenger, Mariyappan was quarantined in Tokyo upon arrival.
Tek Chand stepped up as India’s flagbearer in Mariyappan’s absence.
However, Mariyappan was subjected to regular COVID-19 tests and returned negative results in all of them. Since he was only deemed as a "close contact", his training routine was not affected in Tokyo.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Mariyappan said it was a challenging period and the key was keeping himself focussed. He said:
“It was quite challenging (to be quarantined) and the mental pressure was high. I quarantined myself and practiced, somehow set my goal straight for competition and this kept me strong and going.”
Mariyappan pumped up to do well in future
Whether the ordeal played a part or not, Mariyappan couldn’t replicate his gold-winning performance on the biggest stage, but ended up second best. However, did not lose heart by winning silver and simply adjusted his goal. He said:
“Yes, the pressure was there a lot. However, I am very happy to win the silver medal but still I regret missing the gold medal. I am now looking forward to winning the gold medal in the next Olympics.”
It's no secret that there is huge room for improvement in infrastructure and facilities for para-athletes in India. Mariyappan hopes that India's best-ever showing at the Tokyo Paralympics will begin to change that. He said:
“Our infrastructure is not yet improved. It has to be worked upon a lot and hopefully there is visible development by the Paris Olympics. It is good that the Honorable Prime Minister has now shown a lot of interest in supporting this.”
Mariyappan, who arrived to a rousing reception in Chennai, said he also has plans to give back to the sport by opening an academy in the hinterlands of Tamil Nadu soon.
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