The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics will see India’s largest-ever contingent participate with 54 athletes competing across nine sports. After a record medal tally in the Olympics campaign earlier this month, India can expect another successful campaign at the Paralympics.
Rio 2016, where 19 athletes represented India in five sports, was the country’s best-ever performance at a Summer Paralympics with a total of four medals – two gold, a silver and bronze – all in athletics. India will be looking to build on that with three of the four Rio medallists – Devendra Jhajharia, Varun Singh Bhati, Mariyappan Thangavelu – set for a reappearance.
Tokyo will see a number of strong contenders in athletics and incidentally, javelin throw will be the event to watch out for at Paralympics too. Two-time gold medallist Jhajharia will be joined by Sundar Singh Gurjar (F46) as well as Sandeep Chaudhary and Sumit Antil (F64).
Further, para-badminton is set to make its debut at Tokyo 2020 which boosts India’s medal chances with some top players in action. The Indian shooting contingent will also be a sizeable one with 10 athletes qualifying as compared to just one at Rio.
Despite the pandemic-enforced delay, India can go in with hope at Tokyo 2020, given the strong performances in 2019.
Here’s a look at some of the top medal contenders based on past performance:
Devendra Jhajharia – Athens & Rio gold medallist
The first, and so far only, Indian to win two gold medals at the Paralympics, javelin thrower Jhajharia is going for an unprecedented third gold medal at Tokyo 2020. The 40-year-old has won two gold medals in the men’s F-46 category at the Paralympics, separated by 12 years.
He had won a gold at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, setting a new world record of 62.15 metres. He then repeated the feat 12 years later at the 2016 Rio edition bettering his own record with a throw of 63.97 metres. His event was absent in Beijing and London.
- Gold Medal at World Athletics Championships, Lyon, France 2013
- Silver Medal in Javelin Throw at Para-Asian Games Incheon, South Korea, 2014
- Silver Medal in Javelin Throw at IPC World Championship Doha, 2015
Mariyappan Thangavelu – Rio gold medallist
Mariyappan won India’s first medal at Rio Paralympics, securing gold with a phenomenal performance in the men’s T42 high jump event. He became just the third Indian athlete to win a gold medal at the Paralympics, after swimmer Murlikant Petkar in 1972 and Jhajharia in 2004.
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. He struggled with an ankle injury in 2017 but feels he is back to his best now and has won bronze medals at Asian Para Games and World Championships since.
- Bronze Medal in Men’s High Jump T42 at the World Para Athletics Championships, Dubai 2019
- Bronze Medal in Men’s High Jump T42 at the 2018 Asian Para Games, Jakarta, Indonesia
Varun Singh Bhati – Rio bronze medallist
In the same event as Mariyappan, Bhati won the bronze medal in high jump at Rio 2016 and will look to do one better in Tokyo.
At the age of 6, Bhati was diagnosed with polio but that didn’t stop him from pursuing sports. He started with basketball but took up high jump in 10th under the guidance of his sports teacher Manish Tripathi. He finished fifth at the 2014 Asian Para Games when he was just a teen and became one of the youngest Indians to win a Paralympic medal.
• Bronze Medal in World Para Athletics Championships 2017, London
• Silver Medal in Para Asian Games 2018, Jakarta
Sundar Singh Gurjar
Another strong hope in javelin throw, Gurjar is the world No 3 men’s javelin F46. He first came into the limelight in 2016 when he registered the ‘A’ qualification mark for the 2016 Rio Paralympics with a performance of 59.36m in the 8th Fazza IPC Athletics Grand Prix, Dubai. But an unfortunate incident in Rio put him out of contention. Seen as one of the serious medal contenders, he missed the call for his event and could not compete. It was a heartbreaking incident that took him a while to recover from but he will look to rectify that and win a medal in Tokyo.
He also created a national record with 68.42m during the 16th Para Athletics National Championship in Panchkula and is in good form going into the Games.
• Gold medal in Javelin Throw at the 2019 Dubai Para Athletic World Championship.
• Gold medal in Javelin Throw at the 2017 London Para Athletic World Championship.
• Silver medal in Javelin Throw and Bronze medal in Discus Throw at the 2018 Asian Para Games, Indonesia.
Another promising javelin thrower, Sandeep won the gold medal at the World Championships in 2019, breaking his own world record and will be looking to repeat that in Tokyo.
He used to play sport from a young age but reduced mobility in his left hip joint due to injury and surgery made him take up para sports, first badminton and then javelin.
He has won several medals at the international stage with Gold medals at the 2016 Fazza IPC Athletics Grand Prix and the 2016 Berlin Open Para Athletics Championship. He finished fourth at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, represented India at the 2017 IPC World Para Athletics Championships finishing fifth in his event and then won a silver medal at the 2018 Handisport Open in Paris.
Rounding up the four javelin throw contenders is the 23-year-old Sumit Antil. In the same category as Sandeep, he is the world record holder. Sandeep had pipped Sumit for gold at Dubai 2019 in a one-two Indian podium. It should be an interesting battle between the two Indians on August 30.
Sumit was training to be a wrestler before he met with an accident in the year 2015 and his left leg had to be amputated below the knee. He took up para sport after that and began training under Nitin Jaiswal in Delhi.
At the 2019 World Para Athletics Grand Prix in Italy, he created history when he broke the world record in the F64 category while winning silver medal in the Combined Event. He also won a silver medal at World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai.
- 5th position at the Asian Para Games, Jakarta 2018.
- 4th position at the Open Paris Handisport Grand Prix, 2018.
- 4th position at the Open Paris Handisport Grand Prix, 2018.
World No 1 Para-Shuttler Pramod Bhagat will be one of the favourites to win a medal. The 33-year-old has four BWF World Championships gold medals to his name and is the top-ranked shuttler in men’s singles SL3 category. He will also be playing mixed doubles with Palak Kohli.
Pramod had polio at the age of 5 and was left with deformity in his leg after series of treatments. From a young age, he was fascinated with badminton and was discovered by his coach after he beat able-bodied players at a district-level badminton tournament in 2002.
• 2 Gold medals in Men’s Singles and Men’s Doubles events at World Para Badminton Championship, Basel 2019
• Gold and Bronze medal in the Men’s Singles and Men’s Doubles events at the Asian Para Games 2018
• Bronze medal at World Para Badminton Championship, Ulsan, South Korea 2017
• Bronze medal in Men’s Singles event at the Asian Para Games 2014
Top para-shuttler Krishna Nagar is another Indian shuttler expected to be amongst the medal winners. The 22-year-old is the world No 2 in men’s singles SH6 category.
Krishna has a short-stature impairment and came to know about this when he was two. He took up the sport professionally at the age of 17, making his mark at national and international levels. He has won two gold medals at national para badminton championships.
• Bronze medal in the Asian Para Games 2018 in Men’s SS6 category
• Bronze medal in the Singles event and Silver medal in Doubles event in the World Para Badminton championships, Basel 2019
• Silver medal in the singles event in Brazil Para Badminton Open 2020
• 2 Gold medals in Singles and Doubles events in Peru Para Badminton 2020
Parul Parmar and Palak Kohli
The 48-year-old Parmar, a veteran shuttler who has won a 57 international medals, will play women’s doubles with 19-year-old Kohli (SU5).
Parmar was diagnosed with polio in her right leg and her leg got fractured but coming from a family of badminton players, she was introduced to the sport by her father at six and has played since then. World No 1 in women’s singles SL3 category for almost two decades, Parmar has maintained her top ranking 2002. The women’s singles SL3 is however not part of the Tokyo 2020 roster and she will feature in SL4. She is also a coach for players with disabilities.
Kohli, on the other hand, is reportedly the youngest athlete in the world to qualify for badminton at Tokyo 2020. Kohli has had an underdeveloped left arm since birth but under the guidance of her coach, Gaurav Khanna, she has grown into a strong player.
Pegged as one of the archers to watch out for by the Paralympics official channel, Harvinder Singh will be competing in men’s recurve (open). His journey started after watching archery matches from the London Olympics on TV and he is said to have joined a range the next day.
He made his international debut in Para Archery World Championships at Beijing 2017 where he finished seventh. He then won a gold in men’s individual recurve open at Asian Para Games in 2018 and followed with a bronze in a team event at the Archery Asian Championships 2019.
He fell ill with dengue fever when he was one and a half years old and an injection had an adverse effect after which his leg stopped working. It hasn’t stopped him pursuing sport or academics and he has studied for a doctorate degree in economics.
Manish Narwal is a teen shooting star who took up the sport in 2016 upon his father’s insistence and his siblings are shooters as well.
The right-hand amputee has been one of India’s top para shooters in recent past. He won two medals at the World Para Shooting World Cup in Al Ain in 2017 as well as the silver at the 2017 Bangkok and Dubai World Cups. He won India’s only Gold medal in shooting at the 2018 Asian Para Games, where he broke a junior world record in the P1 event as well as winning silver in the P4 event. He has also won three gold medals – in P1, P4 and P6 Team events – and a Silver medal in P1 at Osijek 2019 World Shooting Para Cup, Croatia
• Gold Medal with World Record in P4 and Silver in P4 Team Event in 2021 WSPS, Al Ain, UAE
• 3 Gold Medals in P1 (Individual and Team) and P4 Team and Bronze in P4 at Chateauroux 2018 World Cup, France
• Gold Medal with Para Asian Record in P1and Silver Medal in P4 at 3rd Para Asian Games, 2018
• 3 Bronze medals in P1 and P4 (Individual and Team) at Sydney 2019 World Shooting Para Sports World Championship, Australia
• 3 Gold Medals in P1, P4 and P6 Team events and Silver medal in P1 at Osijek 2019 World Shooting Para Cup, Croatia
Teenage shooter Avani Lekhara was confined to a wheelchair after a car accident in 2012 injured her spinal cord. But inspired by former Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra, she took up shooting in 2015, winning her first state medal using a rifle borrowed from her coach.
She followed that up with consecutive gold medals at the National Shooting Championship in 2015 and 2016, and a silver medal at the IPC Para Shooting World Cup in Dubai in 2017. Apart from several national medals, she had also made her mark at the international level. She broke the junior world record in 50m Rifle 3 Positions SH1 finals at the 2019 WSPS Championships, Australia. Most recently, she won silver in 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1 in the Osijek World Shooting Para Sport, Croatia in 2019.
• Ranked fifth in the world
• Gold Medal and World Record in P2 at Lima 2021 World Cup
• First Woman Pistol Para Shooter to be representing India at the Paralympics
• Bronze Medal with Junior World Record in P2 at 2019 WSPS World Cup, Osijek, Croatia
• Gold Medal in P2 Team Event with Junior World Record at 2018 WSPS World Cup, Bangkok
• Gold medal in P4 Team and Silver in P4 Individual events in Chateauroux World Cup 2018, France
• Bronze medal in P4 event of Para Asian Games 2018 in Jakarta, Indonesia
• Gold medal in P1 team event and a Silver medal in P4 individual event at Al Ain World Cup 2019, UAE
• 2 Gold medals in P1, P4 team events and 2 Bronze medals in P4 individual and P6 Team events in Osijek World Cup 2019, Croatia
• Bronze medal in P4 team event in Sydney World Championship 2019, Australia
• Gold medal in P1, Silver in P4 team event and Bronze in P4 individual event in Al Ain World Cup 2021 held in UAE
Jadhav will be competing in 50m butterfly of S-7 category and 200m individual medley of SM-7 category at Tokyo.
He was introduced to swimming by his father Narayan Jadhav, a national level swimmer, at the age of three. He was electrocuted when he was in sixth standard and as a result, his hands below the elbow had to be amputated. But three years later when he began swimming again. With his father’s guidance and support, he took up para-swimming, winning medals at the national and international level. Jadhav had then become the only Indian Para swimmer to achieve an A cut for Rio Paralympics.
- 1 Gold and 2 Bronze medals at the Asian Para Games, Indonesia 20183
- Silver medals at the German Swimming Championships, Wuppertal 2016
- 1 Gold, 1 Silver and 2 Bronze medals at the Winter Open Polish Championships, Poland 2015
With inputs from Sports Authority of India and GoSports Foundation