Mariyappan: ‘Good feeling’ to win Arjuna award

“Earlier, no one knew who Mariyappan was, now everyone back home in my neighbourhood treats me with respect. It's a good feeling,” says the Rio Paralympics gold medallist.

“Even my friends now talk with some respect, which is not a good feeling.”   -  C. V. Subrahmanyam

Greater Noida and Erode are worlds apart, in every way. So are Varun Singh Bhati and Thangavelu Mariyappan, brought together by their physical challenges and the Paralympics medal at Rio last year that saw the latter take gold and Bhati get a bronze in the high jump.

It was only the second time that India won two medals in the same event at the quadrennial competition – the previous being Bhimrao Kesarkar and Joginder Singh Bedi in javelin in 1984. No wonder then that Mariyappan and Bhati have become stars in their respective circles.

“It is a good feeling now. Earlier, no one knew who Mariyappan was, now everyone back home in my neighbourhood treats me with respect. It's a good feeling. But there is a slight sadness too. Even my friends now talk with some respect, which is not a good feeling. I wish they go back to being as free as before, the formalities irritate me,” the 22-year old Mariyappan laughed.

Persistent

Shy and a man of few words, Mariyappan is the first para-athlete from Tamil Nadu to get the Arjuna. After a series of successes at school level, he quit training after failing to make the Olympics cut in 2012, only to be dragged back in 2015 by coach Satyanarayana. “He convinced me and my mother to start again and promised I will win a medal in Rio. It happened,” he said. He is now building a house at the same place where his mother used to sell fruits for a living.

Bhati, on the other hand, is a study in contrast. Assured and confident with a supportive family and school, this other 22-year old is nonchalant about his award. “The Sports Minister had said last year that all medallists will get Khel Ratna but I am happy with this. You can get a Khel Ratna after Arjuna, not vice versa. Also, it's better to go one step at a time. Now this will give me extra motivation to push myself, get that gold I missed and perform even better,” Bhati said.

Next up for both are different targets as well, even though the immediate concern is the Asian Games next year and the ultimate aim is Tokyo Olympics 2020. While Mariyappan hopes to set a new world record by crossing the 2.10m mark, Bhati wants to change the colour of his medal.