For India, the Tokyo Paralympics 2020 will forever be etched in history as the campaign where Indian para-sports took a gigantic step forward. With 19 medals overall, India comprehensively reshaped its history in the Paralympic Games.
Before Tokyo, India had won 12 medals across all Paralympic Games editions. Their tally of four medals in Rio was their best-ever at a single Paralympic event (with two gold medals putting it ahead of 1984).
However, India’s performance in the Japanese capital has pretty much outdated those numbers.
With five gold medals in Tokyo, India have more than doubled their previous tally of four gold across the previous Games. It pushed India up the medal table to 24th spot.
The addition of badminton to the Paralympics certainly boosted India as two out of the five gold medals came from that discipline. Shooting brought some cheers finally in Tokyo, as the contingent delivered two gold medals for India at the Paralympics. Athletics, usually India’s go-to discipline at Paralympics secured another gold for India.
Here’s a look at the five gold medallists for India at Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and the moments when national anthem was played.
Avani Lekhara (Shooting)
Female athletes have been leading the way for India at the Olympic Games in recent times and that took another in the right direction at the Paralympics. It was wonderful to see Avani Lekhara bag India’s first gold medal at the Games not long after Bhavina Patel’s historic table tennis silver.
That the gold came in shooting, where India had expected many medals at the Olympics but had been left disappointed, made it a bit more special.
Confined to a wheelchair after an accident when she was barely 11 years old in 2012, Lekhara was inspired to take up shooting after reading Abhinav Bindra’s autobiography where he detailed his journey to being an Olympic champion. She took up shooting in 2015 as a hobby after her father took her to a range during one summer vacation.
And in 2021, she matched Bindra’s iconic Beijing 2008 moment when she won India’s first-ever medal in shooting at the Paralympics. She is also the first Indian woman to win gold at the Paralympics.
Lekhara also achieved the feat in style. The 19-year-old won gold with a Paralympic record and equalled the world record with a score of 239.7. She led the field after a solid start and maintained the lead to secure gold.
The 19-year-old also went onto win a bronze in the R8 50m rifle 3 Positions event as she became the first Indian woman to win multiple Paralympic medals.
Sumit Antil (Athletics)
Probably the most stunning performance by an Indian at the Tokyo Paralympics came from Sumit Antil. He didn’t just win gold in the men’s javelin throw F64, he absolutely dominated the competition. Breaking the world record mark thrice during the final, Antil delivered one of the greatest performances on the world stage by an Indian athlete.
He started with 66.95m in his very first attempt, which broke his own previous personal best of 62.88m by a sizeable margin. He beat that on his second attempt with a massive effort of 68.08m as he led the field from the start.
His next two attempts were 65.27m and 66.71m, both of which would have broken the record he had set at 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai. But the Indian saved the best for later as he threw 68.55m to better his new world record another time.
Antil’s journey to the top of the podium was full of sacrifices but also about a never-say-die attitude.
His dreams to become a wrestler were dashed as he was met with an accident and his leg had to be amputated. However, after being introduced to para sports, he found a new goal and pursued it like no other could. After silver medals in big-ticket events, he won gold when it mattered the most: at the Paralympics in Tokyo. And he has promised there is more to come.
Manish Narwal (Shooting)
India’s Manish Narwal came into the Tokyo Paralympics as a world record holder in P4 Mixed 50m Pistol SH1 and left with a Paralympic record and a gold medal.
Overcoming a slow start and an early elimination scare, the 19-year-old Narwal got his act together. He had missed the podium in 10m air pistol SH1 after qualifying at the top spot, but then shot a new Paralympic record of 218.2 to claim his first medal in a thrilling performance alongside veteran Singhraj Adhana for a famous India 1-2 in 50m pistol.
Narwal has a congenital impairment to his right hand and he can’t raise it, not even while accepting the medal as we saw, but his left arm was enough to lift the pistol and win the gold.
Narwal, coming from a sports-oriented family in Ballabhgarh in Haryana, had a keen interest in sports from childhood and grew up wanting to become a football player. But his impairment from birth meant he couldn’t quite fulfill that dream.
When he started shooting, Narwal did not know about para-sports or the Paralympic Games, he was practising and competing with other able bodied athletes for the love of the sport.
After picking up shooting as a sport in 2016, when he was 15 years old, he was ranked 13th in the world at the age of just 16 and has been a consistently top performer since 2017.
His brief career reached its highest point in Tokyo, but he might just be getting started.
Pramod Bhagat (Badminton)
India’s Pramod Bhagat was pre-tournament medal favourite being the world No 1 in the men’s singles SL3 category as well as the reigning world champion from 2019 and he played just as one in Tokyo scooping the gold medal by beating England’s Daniel Bethell in the final.
Having lost to the British athlete in the test event in Tokyo in 2020, Bhagat turned the tables at the Paralympics.
The top-seeded Indian, also an Asian champion, showed great mental fortitude as he prevailed 21-14, 21-17 over second-seeded Bethell in a thrilling final that lasted 45 minutes at the Yoyogi National Stadium.
At the age of five, Bhagat was infected with polio. Inadequate medication meant his leg was deformed. His father though allowed him to foster his love for sport. In 2002, he started to focus on badminton and beat all able-bodied players in a district level tournament.
Since then he won medals at the national level but struggled with financial difficulty all along. Bhagat, who had coached youngsters to earn a living, only got financial aid when he won bronze medal in the 2014 Para Asian Games.
In the 2019 World Para Badminton Championships, he won gold medals in both team and individual event.
In Tokyo he bagged the biggest prize of it all 19 years after he first picked up a badminton racquet., dropping just one game along the way. Thoroughly well deserved.
Krishna Nagar (Badminton)
India’s Krishna Nagar won gold in the men’s singles SH6 (short stature) class and did so in dominant fashion as he, like Bhagat, went unbeaten all throughout the competition that was played in a group and knockout format.
The 22-year-old Nagar won 21-17 16-21 21-17 against Hong Kong’s Chu Man Kai.
Second seed Nagar, who last played Chu Man Kai two years ago, came into the match with a 2-1 head-to-head advantage in singles matches on the circuit. It turned out to be a pulsating contest as the duo fought tooth and nail but the Indian held his nerve to close it out.
Nagar, who has a short stature impairment, picked up the sport after being encouraged by his cousin. However, he started playing the sport seriously only four years back has won bronze at Para Asian Games before claiming a bronze and silver at 2019 World Championships in singles and doubles respectively.
The world No 2 also won a silver in Brazil and two gold medals in singles and doubles in Peru last year. He also claimed two gold medals at the Dubai Para Badminton International in April this year.
“This is a dream come true. I want to thank my father, mother, uncle, auntie, God, my coaches,” said Nagar after winning India’s fifth gold at the Games.