Kolkata: It’s no surprise that Neeraj Chopra, India’s golden boy in javelin in Tokyo, had been the toast of the nation ever since that magical evening last Saturday. Meanwhile, away from the limelight - another double gold medallist in Chopra’s sport in the Olympics arena is fine-tuning his preparations to go for a third gold for himself and India.
No prizes for guessing, one is talking about Devendra Jhajharia, who will be leaving for Tokyo shortly for the Paralympics which will be held from August 24 to September 5. Now 40 but supremely fit, the affable champion is a shining example of grit and willpower who won India their first gold in F-46 javelin throw in 2004 Athens Paralympics and followed it up 12 years later with another one at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
The outlook for Tokyo is bright as on form, Jhajharia could well be on his way to a third gold after having qualified with a new world record of 65.71 metres during their selection trials in New Delhi in July - where he actually improved upon his own mark of 63.97m.
“I am training hard and following a well-thought-out programme set by my personal coach Sunil Tanwar. I am confident that just like in Athens and Rio, I will win a gold medal in Tokyo too,” he told Paralympics.org.
Paralympics, an integral part of the Olympics movement, had always been a goldmine of stories of triumph of the human spirit against all odds - and Jhajharia’s is no different.
Growing up in a family of farmers in the Churu district of Rajasthan, he was like any other playful kid till tragedy struck when he was an eight-year-old. “I was climbing a tree in my village and accidentally touched a live cable, which was apparently an 11,000-volt cable. So severe was the accident that (my left hand) had to be amputated right away — noboendra dy was sure whether I would be able to recover from it,” he said in a recent interview.
From ridicule from his friends for having ‘‘one arm’’ to lip service from neighbours and relatives for sympanthy, Jhajharia learnt to be indifferent to it and he would reach the school grounds every day to observe the sport that “required only one arm”.
“You can try and imagine how a parent would feel when someone says stuff like that about their own child. But my parents never let me feel the heat… I was striving to not make myself appear weak to the world. And the only way to achieve it was to succeed, to be a champion. To be a champion, you had to be a sportsman, so I started focusing more on the sport.
‘‘In my 10th standard, I started practising every day and soon became district champion in the Open category. I kept on winning medals in inter-college, district and state events,” he said, adding: “When I looked around, I saw so many people who didn’t have both arms or both legs and I thought I was lucky to have my right hand.”
Jhajharia is the first para-athlete to be given the prestigious Padma Shri, one of the highest civilian honurs and back in 2004, he was also awarded the Arjuna award for his contribution in sport.
“The government is working for differently-abled people. People’s attitudes have gone through a world of change since I started playing. They don’t think that the differently-abled are incapable of doing great things but a lot more needs to be done. If you go abroad, there are multipurpose stadiums for para-athletes, where wheelchair-bound people can go anywhere and play any sport,” he said.
Indian contingent for Tokyo
A contingent of 24 athletes have been shortlisted by Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) for Tokyo and they include Mariyappan Thangavelu, the Rio Games high jump champion in men’s F-42 category.
In men’s F-64, Sandeep Chaudhary and Sumit Antil have made cut. Antil holds the world record of 66.70 metres while Chaudhary won gold at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships held in Doha.
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will feature 539 events across 22 sports hosted at 21 venues.