Kolkata: In a ‘first’ for India, their para athletes landed two gold medals on the same day of Tokyo Paralympics on Monday - and five medals in all in a space of over an hour - to take their medal tally to a best-ever haul of seven with five more days of competition still to go. Their best-ever result was four, including two gold medals, in Rio Paralympics in 2016.
Avani Lekhara, a 19-year-old shooter with a winning smile, ushered in the medal rush in the morning when she won a historic gold medal in the women’s 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1 final - becoming the first Indian woman to win a Paralympic or an Olympic gold medal.
Later in the day, Sumit Antil set a new world record on his way to a gold medal in the men’s javelin throw - F64 final - when he hurled the spear to 68.55 metres, improving on his old world record of 62.88 set in November 2019.
Australia’s Michael Burian won the silver medal with 66.29 metres while Sri Lanka’s Dulan Kodithuwakku took the bronze medal with 65.61 metres. Both Antil and Burian went past the old world record while the Sri Lankan came up with his personal best.
The story of Antil, a 23-year-old from Sonipat - barely 50 kms away from the village of Panipat (in the same state of Chandigarh) where India’s javelin sensation Neeraj Chopra hails from - is a fascinating one. He lost his left leg below the knee after he was involved in a motorbike accident in 2005, but participated in able-bodied javelin throw till 2015 before taking a break.
Coming back in 2018 with para-sports, Antil immediately made an impact, winning silver in the 2019 World Championships in Dubai. He opened his campaign at Tokyo 2020 with the first throw of 66.95 and followed it up with 68.08 in his season throw, which virtually sealed the issue in his favour as nobody else could manage to come closer to 68.
When Deepa Malik, the first Indian woman medallist in Paralympics in Rio and now the President of Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) said she was looking at a target of 15 medals ahead of the Games, it seemed more of a pep talk. However, the medal spree on Sunday and Monday now makes the target of ‘double digits’ very much within their reach. India have, as figures reveal, won as many medals as they had won from the 1988 to 2016 Paralympics in just six days in Tokyo.
Devendra Jhajharia, considered a legend of sorts in Paralympics for his two gold medals at a gap of eight years (Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016), then got into the act to finish with a silver in men’s Javelin F46 event. Sundar Singh Gurjar, Jhajharia’s compatriot, took the bronze in the same event.
Meanwhile, Yogesth Kathuniya finished with a silver in the men’s Discus F56 event to complete India’s creditable show in field events.
Their haul of three medals on Monday, however, was vetted down to two when Army man Vinod Kumar’s bronze in the Discus Throw F42 event was declared void when the 42-year-old was found ‘ineligible’ in disability classification assessment and therefore, he would have to give up his bronze medal.
Bhavina Patel won the country’s first medal when she won the silver in the women’s singles table tennis C4 event on Sunday, with long jumper Nishad Kumar then giving India their second medal - a silver in Men’s High Jump T47 category with an Asian record.