The day’s developments took India’s total medal tally to 7, their best ever at a Paralympic Games, raising hopes of ushering in a revolution for differently-abled athletes in a country where even ramps for the disabled are a rarity in public places.
At the Rio Games in 2016, India had won 2 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze, but increased government funding and a special focus on para athletes has paid off in spades this time around.
“I can’t describe this feeling. I am on top of the world,” said Avani, speaking for all of the medal winners. Avani started the day for India with a gold and javelin thrower Sumit Antil ended it with another, along with a world record.
India’s tally could have been higher but they lost a bronze after athlete Vinod Kumar, who had finished third in discus (F52) on Sunday, was found ineligible in disability classification assessment.
Avani equalled the world record while winning the gold in women’s 10m air rifle standing SH1, while Antil bagged the top finish in men’s javelin (F64), beating his own world record by almost 6 metres.
Yogesh Kathuniya won one of the two silvers in men’s discus (F56) while the other was won by the indefatigable Devendra Jhajharia in men’s javelin (F46) event. In the same javelin event, Sundar Singh Gurjar claimed bronze.
The 19-year-old Avani, who suffered spinal cord injuries following a car crash in 2012, showed what it takes for a shooter to finish on the podium at the Games by winning the gold quite convincingly.
After qualifying for the final as the 7th of the 8 shooters, she raised her game when it mattered most. She took the lead after the first round of five shots in the final and, barring for one round, maintained it. She finished with 249.6 points, ahead of Cuiping Zhang of China (248.9). Ukraine’s Iryna Shchetnik took the bronze. “I am very happy. I was just trying to focus on the process and was thinking just one shot at time. Everything went like I wanted,” Avani said.
Sumit started with a world record – 66.9m – before bettering it twice in the next four throws. His first one was followed by efforts of 68.08m, 65.27m, 66.71m and 68.55m, leaving no chance to his rivals. The earlier record – 62.88m – was also in his name which he had set in Dubai in 2019.
Sadeep, another Indian in the fray, finished fourth with a best of 62.20. “This is my first Paralympics and I was a little nervous. I was hoping for a 70-metre-plus throw, maybe I can do 75m. It was not my best, but I am very happy to break the world record,” Sumit said.
Kathuniya had three fouls in his six attempts, but his last throw was 44.38m and it was good enough to push him to second position, behind Claudiney Batista of Brazil, who had 45.59, also in his last throw. An elated Yogesh, a post graduate, later said that he was hoping his medal will help him get a job. “I hope I can get a job now. That will be very nice,” the 24-year-old Kathuniya told TOI.
Jhajharia followed his Rio gold with a silver, with a personal best of 64.35m. But the effort was not enough to earn him his third Paralympics gold.
(With inputs from PTI)
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