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India is sending its largest-ever contingent to the Tokyo Paralympics with 54 athletes set to compete in nine sport disciplines.
From 19 participants at the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016 (who bagged India’s best-ever medal haul of four medals) to 54 participants in Tokyo, the country has certainly come a long way. They are set to compete across nine para sports, including taekwondo, table tennis, archery, athletics, canoeing, badminton, shooting, powerlifting, and swimming.
Dr. Deepa Malik, President of the Paralympic Committee of India and Rio 2016 silver medallist, is confident this progress will be visible in the medal table at the end of the Tokyo Games.
“We have a very strong athletics squad, we have a very strong badminton squad. Shooting [team] has world record holders, so we are looking very, very confident. I don’t want to put any numbers. I don’t want to put pressure on my athletes in the leadership role of a president. I have been an athlete myself. I just want them to enjoy their sport and do their best. If they achieve their season-best, they are into a medal,” she said.
Indeed the Indian contingent holds several strong contenders for podium finishes. While Neeraj Chopra’s gold medal win at Tokyo 2020 brought javelin throw to the limelight, the country already has an accomplished Paralympic athlete with two gold medals in hand. Javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia will be aiming for an unprecedented third gold at Tokyo after Athens 2004 and Rio 2016, competing in the F46 category (unilateral upper limb impairment).
Also competing in javelin throw in the F64 category (lower limb impairment) are two strong medal hopefuls, Sandeep Chaudhury and Sumit Antil. In 2019, they won gold and silver respectively at the World Para Athletics Championships. Soman Rana, a Paralympic athlete after losing a limb while on active duty in the Indian Army, will be representing India in the Men’s Shot Put F57 event.
High jump defending champion Mariyappan Thangavelu will be chasing a second gold medal since winning the gold in Rio 2016, competing in the T63 category (prosthesis with single above the knee amputation). He will also be the flag bearer for India.
Rio bronze medallist Varun Singh Bhati and Asian Para Games double medalist Sharad Kumar, too, are worth looking out for.
Badminton makes its debut at the Paralympics and India’s seven-member team hope to make history. Among them includes world #1 in the SL3 category (players with impairment in one/both legs and poor walking/running balance) Pramod Bhagat. He’ll be joining 19-year-old Palak Kohli, one of the youngest Indian Paralympics, in the mixed doubles.
Sakina Khatun becomes the first Indian powerlifter to take part at the Games, representing India in the women’s -50kg weight category. She was also a bronze medallist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Pistol shooter Manish Narwal, 19, holds high hopes, having broken the world record in the P4 50m pistol event at the Para Shooting World Cup earlier this year. In 2019, he was a bronze medallist at the World Championships. Meanwhile, Avani Lekhara becomes India’s first female shooter at the Paralympics.
Indias three-member water sports delegation, comprising two male swimmers Niranjan Mukundan and Suyash Jadhav, and female canoe sprint athlete Prachi Yadhav, are all set to deliver their best at the Paralympic Games.
According to Paralympic Committee President Deepa Malik, more than 100 had achieved the minimum eligibility criteria for Tokyo Paralympics in athletics but since India had a quota of only 24, they had to pick the best from the best.
“I don’t what to put any numbers because that is very cliched. I just want my athletes to put their best performance which they did back home or they just do better than what they did back home. It will bring them a medal,” she said.
This year, Coca-Cola Company’s home-grown brand Thums Up, became the first FMCG brand to partner with the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. According to Dr Malik, such collaborations will have the effect of “reaching out to the masses with a very strong message of ability beyond disability.”
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will take place from 24 August to 5 September, 2021.
Compiled from various media reports
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