Tyrone Pillay wants underdog story to conclude at Tokyo 2020

South African shot put athlete flew under the radar into Paralympic bronze in Rio 29 Sep 2020
Tyrone Pillay (right) stunned the field at the Rio 2016 Paralympics with bronze
By Gracious Toriro | For the IPC

South Africa’s Tyrone Pillay was in the best shape of his shot put career and felt primed for a medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. The postponement back in March shook up his expectations, but the 40-year-old remains determined to close his athletic years on a high note.

“COVID- 19 has surely affected the way of life and has changed norms around the around,” Pillay said. “The sports world has not been spared either and my training regime has been affected. In March, before the Games were postponed, I was at the peak of my fitness and competitiveness. With the postponement of the Games, I definitely need to re-evaluate myself and focus on what I can.”

“Only time will tell how ready I will be for the Games in 2021,” continued Pillay, who has a gym set up in his garage. “I however plan to work as hard as I possibly can and give it my best shot for the last time in my sporting career.”

The South African wants to better his result from his Paralympic debut at Rio 2016, where he won his first major medal, a bronze in the men’s F42 category. It was a sweet feeling after back-to-back podium misses at the previous World Championships.

How it began

Pillay, who was born with a left leg impairment, loved playing cricket, and his father was a strict motivator in teaching his son how to live with his impairment. 

But at 22 years old, his father passed away, and Pillay shifted his focus from sports to helping his family. It took Pillay seven years, at 29, to return to sport. He had watched the Beijing 2008 Paralympics, and thought that his body seemed better built for shot put. So he worked on building muscle weight toward making London 2012. In his weight training, he wanted to increase from 75kg. To do so, he watched YouTube videos.

"I had the determination and resilience, so I put in all the extra effort to make sure I got where I wanted,” Pillay said.

Hard work pays off

Pillay’s international competition debut was in 2011 at the Sharjah Para Athletics Championships. 

“I still remember my kit delivered to my doorstep in the evening,” he recalled. “I was so excited. Imagine at the age of 30, I was so excited like a small kid.” 

He finished in fourth place, but seeing one of the South African teammates win a gold medal made him proud.

The competition however was stiff, and Pillay failed to make the London 2012 squad. However, another four years of hard work led to his debut at Rio 2016, where he flew under the radar.

He defied the odds and won his first Paralympic medal, a bronze medal in shot put, adding to South Africa’s 16 medals.  

He plans to retire after Tokyo 2020, where he is hopeful of going one up from Rio 2016.  

“I went from an underdog to a medallist,” Pillay said. “The bronze medal win brought the most absolute amazing feeling together with a sense of accomplishment at a personal and national level. Every Para athlete dreams of competing at the Paralympic Games, this is the pinnacle of Para sport in my view.”