Jhajharia: 'My experience helped me win gold'

At a felicitation ceremony in New Delhi, Paralympic medallists Mariappan Thangavelu, Devendra Jhajharia, Deepa Malik and Varun Bhati spoke about their own efforts and India's overall performance at Rio.

(From left) Mariappan Thangavelu, Devendra Jhajharia, PCI president Rao Inderjit Singh, Deepa Malik and Varun Bhati at the felicitation ceremony in New Delhi.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Mariappan Thangavelu, who has charmed the country with his high jump gold in the Paralympics in Rio, expressed his desire to meet the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and his hero, film superstar Rajnikanth. Alongside other Paralympic medallists, he was felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Paralympic Committee of India president Rao Inderjit Singh.

Subdued and opening out hesitatantly to express his views, Mariappan said that he was delighted to live up to the faith of his mother Saroja who wished him the gold when he left for the Games, and that he was keen to develop a playground his village in Periyavadangapatti in Salem, apart from opening a sports academy.

Looking back, he said that he was surprised by the spontaneous cheering from the crowd in Brazil during his last jump and expressed gratitude to his coach Satyanarayanan for the diligent training, for about four hours in two sessions every day for the last two years.

Devendra Jhajaria, who won the javelin gold for the second time in Paralympics after the Athens Games in 2004, said that he was confident of his performance, even though the world standards had gone up significantly. "The standard had gone up in 12 years, but my experience helped me," said Devendra Jhajharia who had broken his own world record to clinch the gold.

Deepa Malik, who had won the silver in shot put, said that if she could achieve so much at her age despite the disability, everyone with a dream and who worked hard with sincerity and honesty would be able to achieve a lot more, if they put their mind on the task wholeheartedly.

Varun Bhati was the other athlete who had won a bronze in high jump, and the PCI president said that it was a fantastic performance by a small contingent of 19 athletes, to capture four medals. He praised the others for competing hard and mentioned that a few had missed medals narrowly while one could not compete.

Overcoming troubled times

Union Minister Rao Inderjit Singh, an international skeet shooter with medals in the Commonwealth Championship and SAF Games to his credit, recalled the troubled times of PCI for the last few years when it was derecognised thrice. He said that foreign companies had expressed interest to support the Indian para athletes on seeing their performance in Brazil, but insisted that he would seek the support of the Indian companies.

Interestingly, the PCI was recognised in time by the world body in June this year, which ensured the national flag and national anthem for India in Brazil. He also acknowledged the support of Hero Group and Piramal Group for placing faith on the Indian contingent prior to the Games, when there was no guarantee of performance.

The Union Minister expressed confidence that all efforts would be made to get the best support for para athletes in future, and give them a good career. He stressed that athletes like Mariyappan had emerged from the National championship in Ghaziabad which had drawn a lot of flak from the media for its conduct.

Rao Inderjit Singh was particularly grateful to the Prime Minister for spending time with all the para athletes and talking to them in boosting their morale. He thanked the television channels, mainly Doordarshan, for making the effort to telecast the action from the Paralympics which made heroes out of the medallists and made them household names.

It was stressed that the athletes deliberately kept a low profile before departure to ensure that their focus stayed on their events and there was no extra pressure on them to perform.

It was hoped that they had to perform better than what they had achieved in India, said the PCI president.