Following a successful 2021 Summer Olympics, all eyes will now turn to the Tokyo Paralympics. The quadrennial event will take place from 24 August to 5 September. India had a record haul at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, where its athletes won two gold, one silver and a bronze. Will the Tokyo edition prove to be more successful?
Rio Paralympics proved a salve for India's showing at that year's Olympics
Indian athletes had a shocking 2016 Rio Olympics. Had it not been for the heroics of shuttler PV Sindhu and freestyle grappler Sakshi Malik, the nation would have had to face the ignominy of returning empty-handed for the first time since Barcelona 1992. Even then, a silver and bronze were nothing to write home about for a country of more than 1 billion people.
However, the Rio Paralympics offered a soothing balm for the hurt felt by Indian fans.
At the 2004 Athens Paralympics, India picked up a gold after 32 years. Its four medals at the Rio Paralympics all came in athletics, which had not yielded even a single medal for the country in the Olympics since its independence.
As a 22-year-old, Mariyappan Thangavelu, whose right foot was permanently injured in an accident when he was five, went on to script history, clearing 1.89m to win gold in the men's high jump T42 category. Varun Singh Bhati won bronze in the same event, with a jump of 1.86m.
Deepa Malik, known for her adventures on the wheelchair, became the first woman to win a Paralympic medal for India, when she won silver in the shot put F53. The icing on the cake was gold for javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia.
Long before Neeraj Chopra won India's first Olympic gold in athletics in Tokyo, it was Jhajharia who won gold at the Athens Paralympics in 2004. He returned 12 years later at Rio, only to break his own world record with a 63.97m throw.
Tokyo Paralympics - A golden chance for Team India to create history
As such, the Tokyo Paralympics is a golden chance for Team India to create history. In terms of contingent size, this is arguably the largest team the country have sent in the history of the event. 55 players will be participating in various disciplines like archery, badminton, shooting, swimming, athletics, powerlifting etc.
In the Paralympics, India has had a much better record in athletics compared to the Olympics. As such, the country is also sending the largest ever contingent in this regard, comprising the best of the best. Defending Olympic champion and World Championship medalist Mariyappan Thangavelu will lead the contingent at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics.
The clash between Titans - Devendra Jhajharia and Sundar Singh Gurjar
However, the contest that everyone will be eagerly waiting for is the contest between two stalwarts of men's javelin throw - Devendra Jhajharia and Sundar Singh Gurjar. One is a Paralympic champion, as well as a world record holder. The other is a former world champion, and a close contender for the same.
Sundar Singh Gurjar's personal best before becoming a para athlete was 68 meters. Even as a para athlete, he claims to be able to throw beyond 65 meters, way ahead of the men's F46 world record.
Devendra Jhajharia is 40 years old and is almost on the verge of retirement. Yet, in a clear message to his competitors, particularly Gurjar, Devendra threw a spear to a distance of 65.71 meters to qualify for the Tokyo Paralympics. In doing so, he smashed his own world record in some style.
It will be interesting to see who further breaks the world record, or even breaches the coveted 70-meter mark.