Debutant Sumit Antil smashed his own world record multiple times for the F64 class gold, while veteran Devendra Jhajharia’s F46 category silver cemented his status of being India’s greatest para-athlete as javelin throwers led the country’s track-and-field medal rush at the Paralympics here on Monday.
Another javelin thrower Sundar Singh Gurjar picked up bronze in Jhajharia’s event, while discus thrower Yogesh Kathuniya’s F56 silver ensured that India made its presence felt across the podium and through the day.
The man of the moment was, however, the 23-year-old Antil as he bludgeoned his way to the top of the podium with an astonishing fifth attempt of 68.55m mark, which was the best of the day by quite a distance and a new world record.
“In training, I have thrown 71m, 72m, many times. I don’t know what happened in my competition. One thing is for sure: in future I will throw much better," Antil said after the stupendous performance.
Hailing from Sonepat in Haryana, Antil, who lost his left leg below the knee after he was involved in a motorbike accident in 2015, bettered the previous world record of 62.88m, also set by him, five times on the day. His last throw was a foul. His series read 66.95, 68.08, 65.27, 66.71, 68.55 and foul.
Australian Michal Burian (66.29m) and Sri Lanka’s Dulan Kodithuwakku (65.61m) took the silver and bronze respectively.
The F64 category is for athletes with a leg amputation, who compete with prosthetics in a standing position.
A student of Delhi’s Ramjas College, Antil was an able-bodied wrestler before his accident which led to the amputation of his leg below the knee. A para athlete in his village initiated him to the sport in 2018.
It was tough for him initially battled pain and loss of blood because of his prosthetic leg. But, Antil never quit and continued his dream of reaching to the top.
Son of a JWO officer in the Air Force, Antil also competed against Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra in the able-bodied Indian Grand Prix series 3 on March 5 in Patiala where he finished seventh with a best throw of 66.43m.
He won a silver in the F64 javelin throw at the 2019 World Championships in Dubai.
Earlier Jhajharia clinched a stupendous third Paralympic medal, a silver this time, while Kathuniya finished second in his event.
Sundar Singh Gurjar also chipped in with a bronze, finishing behind Jhajharia.
The F46 classification is for athletes with arm deficiency, impaired muscle power or impaired passive range of movement in arms, with athletes competing in a standing position.
India has so far won five medals in athletics — 1 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze. It has surpassed the four medals it had won in 2016 Rio Paralympics. However, in heartbreak for the contingent, discus thrower Vinod Kumar (F52) lost his bronze won on Sunday after he was found “ineligible" in the reassessment of his diability classification.
The 40-year-old Jhajharia, already India’s greatest Paralympian after winning gold medals in the 2004 and 2016 Games, pulled off a new personal best throw of 64.35m for the silver.
Jhajharia, who lost his left hand after accidentally touching an electric wire while climbing a tree at the age of eight, bettered his own earlier world record (63.97m) but gold winner Sri Lankan Dinesh Priyan Herath Mudiyanselage (67.79m), who set a new world record, was too good for the entire field.
“In sport and competition, these kind of things happen. There are always ups and downs. I did my best and bettered my personal best. But it so happened that it was his (Sri Lankan’s) day," Jhajharia told PTI after winning silver.
The 25-year-old Gurjar, who lost his left hand in 2015 after a metal sheet fell on him at his friend’s house, was third with a best effort of 64.01m.
Born to a farmer father at Karauli village in Rajasthan, Gurjar had won gold in 2017 and 2019 World Para Athletics Championships. He had also won a silver in the 2018 Jakarta Para Asian Games.
Gurjar would often run away from school as he was less interested in studies. When he failed his Class 10 examination, his school teacher suggested him to take up sports.
Gurjar left home for Jaipur where got admitted to a sports hostel after a selection trial.
But fate was cruel as he lost his left hand in an accident and became handicapped.
All his dreams of a sports career seemed to have vanished and he even contemplated suicide, but then he heard about para sports and started training under coach M P Saini.
He made it to 2016 Rio Paralympics but was disqualified for reporting late at the call room before the event. The bronze on Monday was nothing short of redemption for him.
Discus thrower Kathuniya clinched a silver medal in the men’s F56 event.
The 24-year-old, a B.Com graduate from New Delhi’s Kirorimal College, sent the disc to a best distance of 44.38m in his sixth and last attempt to clinch the silver.
Son of an Army man, Kathuniya suffered a paralytic attack at the age of eight which left him with coordination impairments in his limbs.
Brazil’s defending champion, reigning world champion and world record holder Claudiney Batista dos Santos won the gold with a best throw of 45.59m while Leonardo Diaz Aldana (43.36m) of Cuba took the bronze.
In F56 classification, athletes have full arm and trunk muscle power. Pelvic stability is provided by some to full ability to press the knees together.
He won a bronze medal in the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai with a best throw of 42.51m which also booked him a Tokyo berth.
Kathuniya trained for the Paralympics without a coach and is quite proud to have finished on the podium without any tangible guidance for over one year now.
“Due to lockdown every stadium was closed. I couldn’t have a coach and I am still training without a coach. It was a great moment that I could win silver medal without a coach," he added.
Another javelin thrower Sandeep Chaudhary (F64) finished fourth in the finals.