The Paralympic Committee of India had named a 24-member squad for athletics, headlined by star javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia and high jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu, for the Tokyo Paralympics. The size of the athletics contingent for Tokyo alone is bigger than the entire contingent that went to Rio 2016 where Mariyappan and Jhajharia won gold medals.

Jhajharia and Mariyappan won gold in the F46 javelin and T42 high jump events respectively in the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

Mariyappan was initially given the honour of being the flagbearer at the opening ceremony for Tokyo 2020 too but he has since then been identified as a close contact of a Covid-19 positive person and won’t be able to participate in the opening ceremony.

However, Mariyappan had not tested positive and should be able to compete in his event.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated after Mariyappan Thangavelu was withdrawn as the flag bearer for the Tokyo Paralympics opening ceremony.

F/T42 classification in track and field is for athletes with a leg deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power or impaired passive range of movement in the legs, with athletes competing in a standing position.

While his sport class is T42, Mariyappan will be competing in the T63 category, which is for athletes with a leg amputation, who compete with prosthetics in a standing position.

Event Name Schedule: 
Men's High Jump - T63 Varun Singh Bhati, Sharad Kumar & Mariyappan Thangavelu 31 Aug, 15.55 hrs

On day two of the Rio Paralympics, Mariyappan won India its first medal of the Games with a phenomenal performance in the men’s T42 high jump event. He, along with the then reigning world champion Sam Grewe and compatriot Varun Singh Bhati, had cleared the 1.86m mark and were fighting for the gold medal.

Mariyappan then clinched the top spot with a brilliant jump of 1.89 meters and a momentary raised-arm celebration, casually walked away. It would be enough for him on the night to top the podium. He became just the third Indian athlete to win a gold medal at the Paralympics, after swimmer Murlikant Petkar in 1972 and javelin thrower Jhajharia in 2004.

Mariyappan Thangavelu fact file:

Padma Shri recipient (2017)

Arjuna Award recipient (2017)

Khel Ratna recipient (2020)

Gold medal in men’s high jump T42 at 2016 Rio Paralympics 

Bronze medal in men’s high jump T42 at 2019 World Para Athletics C’ships Dubai

Bronze medal in men’s high jump T42 at 2018 Para Asian Games Jakarta

Mariyappan hails from Periavadagampatti Village of Salem district, Tamil Nadu.

He was five when his right leg was crushed by a speeding bus and the youngster, who was on his way to school, was left with permanent disability and stunted growth. But he did not let it affect him growing up and competed in sporting events with able-bodied peers and had success too.

“I was told the driver was inebriated,” he had told The Hindu in 2016 before Rio Paralympics. “It doesn’t matter. My right leg is now stunted — it is still a five-year-old’s leg; it has never grown or healed.”

His school Physical Education instructor encouraged him to try high jump. His current coach Satyanarayana took him under his wings in 2015.

“After he saw me at a national meet, he came and convinced my family and also made arrangements at my college, and trained me here in Bengaluru for about two years. He has been more like a friend to me, supporting me through every practice and every day,” Mariyappan is quoted as saying by The News Minute, about coach Satyanaryana.

For Mariyappan, something that his coach said has remained important. His misshapen right toe is what gives him leverage while jumping and he treats, it in his words and the coach’s, as his god.


Event Medal Discipline Year Mark
Paralympic Games Gold High Jump - T42 2016 Rio de Janeiro 1.89
World Championships Bronze High Jump - T63 2019 Dubai 1.80
Asian Para Games Bronze Men's High Jump T42/63 2018 Jakarta 1.67

Mariyappan feels he is back to his best after he struggled with an ankle injury in 2017.

“My performance at selection trials (1.86m) was one of my best after my Rio 2016 performance. I had an ankle injury in 2017 and it took some time to heal. It’s been a while since I had been looking to get my old rhythm back. And I believe I have got it back now. I feel I am ready for the Games,” he said.

For Mariyappan, his life motto – as per his official Paralympics profile – is a line that reads: “Try and try again, you will succeed in the end.” It is a motto that has held him in good stead, and he would hope it will help his reach the podium once again Tokyo.

Also read:  

Tokyo 2020 Paralympics: Complete list of athletes in India’s record contingent and their events

History, India’s medals, new events and more – a brief guide to Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games: An overview of the schedule for India’s 54-member contingent

Editor’s note: Mariyappan was identified as a close contact of a Covid-19 positive person and won’t be able to participate in the opening ceremony. The copy has been updated to reflect the change.