Rio De Janeiro: Mariyappan Thangavelu won the gold medal and Varun Singh Bhati clinched bronze in the men’s High Jump T42 event to open India’s medal tally at the Rio Paralympics on Friday.
Thangavelu won gold with a best effort of 1.89m while Bhati’s best jump of 1.86m got him the bronze. USA’s Sam Grewe, also with a best jump of 1.86m, took the silver. T-42 is a disability classification in the sport for differently-abled track-and-field athletes with single ‘above the knee’ amputations or a comparable disability. Sharad Kumar, however, was unable to make it three out of three for Indians on the podium. In the early stages of the competition, Kumar led with jumps of 1.55m and 1.60m but his best of 1.77m left him out of medal contention in sixth place. The fourth- and fifth-placed finishers, Poland’s Lukasz Mamczarz and China’s Zhiqiang Zhong, also had best jumps of 1.77m.
Thangavelu, hailing from a small village in Tamil Nadu, was left permanently disabled after a bus ran over his right leg at the age of five, crushing his knee. In March, he achieved the ‘A’ qualification standard of 1.60m for the Paralympics with an effort of 1.78m at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Grand Prix in Tunisia. Varun Singh, on the other hand, suffers from poliomyelitis, which is a deformity in one leg. In 2014, Varun won gold at the China Open Athletics Championship and finished fifth at the Asian Paralympic Games in Incheon, South Korea. He recorded another fifth-place finish at last year’s Para World Championship in Doha and won gold at this year’s IPC Asia-Oceania Athletics Championship.
India’s overall medal tally at the Paralympics now stands at 10 and is already an improvement on the sole medal in London four years ago, the silver won by Girisha Nagarajegowda in the men’s high jump F42 category. Thangavelu’s gold is India’s third at the Paralympics, after Murlikant Petkar in the men’s 50m freestyle swimming at the 1972 Heidelberg Games and Devendra Jhajharia in the javelin throw F44/46 at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. Jhajharia is aiming for his second medal in Rio.
In a bid to motivate the Paralympians ahead of the Games, the sports ministry had announced that medallists from the prestigious event will be given cash awards at par with the medal winners of last month’s Summer Olympic Games. “Government of India gives Rs 75 lakh for gold, 50 lakh for silver and 30 lakh for bronze to winning athletes in paralympics – at par with Olympics,” the ministry stated on Twitter. A total of 17 para-athletes, the largest-ever delegation from the country, are representing India at the Rio Paralympic Games, from September 7 to 18.