India is all set to field their largest contingent in the quest for medals at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games – 53 in nine sports.
At Rio, India had also sent its then biggest squad of 19 Para athletes. Following their successful campaign at the Games, Para sports has received tremendous support in the country.
However, of the 12 medals that India has won in the Paralympic Games so far, 10 have come from track and field events. So, it does not come as a surprise that the country is looking for a medal haul from Para athletics at Tokyo.
The four medals at Rio, including two golds, has generated a massive following for Para sports, thus giving rise to huge expectations – not only from Para athletics but also in Para archery, Para table tennis, Para powerlifting and Para badminton, that is making its debut.
The team will be led by Rio 2016 high jump T42 gold medallist Mariyappan Thangavelu, who is looking to accomplish what no Indian has done before, win second successive gold in the Games.
At the national selection trials in June, Thangavelu made his intentions clear with a leap of 1.86 metres.
“It was one of my best performances (at selection trials) after Rio 2016. I had an ankle injury in 2017 and it took some time to heal. It's been a while since I had been looking to get my old rhythm back. And I believe I have got it back now. I feel I am ready for the Games. I will aim for the gold," said Thangavelu, who suffered a permanent disability to his right leg when run over by a drunk bus driver while on his way to school.
Rio gold medallist Devendra Jhajharia (javelin F46) and bronze medallist Varun Singh Bhati (high jump T42) will also be looking to replicate their Rio performances.
“I had to wait for 12 years after winning my first gold medal in Athens 2004. I made the most of the opportunity and bagged my second gold at Rio de Janeiro. I don’t want to miss this opportunity in Tokyo,” said Jhajharia.
The Para athletics team comprises of eight javelin throwers including Jhajharia - Ajeet Singh and Sundar Singh Gurjar (F46), Sandeep Chaudhary and Sumit Antil (F64), Navdeep Singh (F41), Ranjeet Bhati (F57) and Tek Chand (F54).
PCI President Deepa Malik is confident the javelin throwers would reap high rewards for India.
“We have high hopes from our javelin throwers. Over the past years, they have been winning at international events; breaking world and personal records several times. We hope that they will finish on the podium in several categories. They have a lot of potential,” asserted Malik, who won a silver at Rio 2016.
India is also banking on their shooters, archers and badminton Para athletes to rise to the occasion.
A record 10 shooters have booked their berths for Tokyo and national chief coach JP Nautiyal is upbeat about their chances.
“We have a balanced team with young and senior players and many of them are coming out with excellent scores during the training that has been ongoing since last month. It has been a great journey for the entire team who have shown great results in the last few years,” said Nautiyal, pinpointing Avani Lekhara, Singhraj and Manish Narwal among others as best medals prospects.
Of the seven-member badminton squad, India will be expecting medals from Pramod Bhagat (SL3), Krishna Nagar (SH6) and the women's doubles pair of Parul Parmar and Palak Kohli (SL3-SU5). All of them are highly ranked in their category and have prepared very well under the guidance of national chief national coach Gaurav Khanna.
There are five archers in the fray - Rakesh Kumar and Shyam Sundar (compound), Vivek Chikara and Harvinder Singh (recurve) while woman archer Jyoti Baliyan (compound individual /mixed event) completes the squad.
Other women athletes who are part of the squad include Simran Yadav (100m T13, Ekta Bhyan and Kashish Lakra (Club Throw F51).
“The Archery team looks strong for a team medal and Jyoti Baliyan is a medal prospect. Training together has made them more confident as they are also learning from each other,” added Malik.