Sumit Antil: ‘I am serving my country in my own way’

“I know there is a lot of difference between the conventional javelin throw and para-javelin throw, but my attempts will be to reduce the gap as much as possible,” says Sumit Antil.

On top of the world: India’s Sumit Antil set a world record of 68.55m to win the gold medal in the men’s javelin throw at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.   -  AP

When Sumit Antil won the gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, it was not just his first Paralympic gold, but also the first for India in para-athletics.

In three throws, a nation of 1.3 billion people got behind the boy from Haryana — just three weeks after Neeraj Chopra had won India’s first ever track and field gold medal in the Olympics.

“I know there is a lot of difference between the conventional javelin throw and para-javelin throw, but my attempts will be to reduce the gap as much as possible,” Sumit tells Sportstar in an exclusive interview.

READ: Record-breaker Sumit Antil has more peaks to conquer

The para-javelin thrower won the gold medal at the 2020 Summer Paralympics in the F64 category, with a throw of 68.55m in the finals — a new world record.

The F64 category consists of athletes with unilateral below-knee limb deficiency and compete with a prosthesis where the minimum impairment criteria for lower limb deficiency and leg length discrepancy are met.

Initially, the Sonipat-born boy never wanted to be a javelin thrower. Sumit wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, an ex-Air Force officer, by joining the Army. He was an aspiring wrestler and wanted to represent the country at the international level.

But an accident in 2015 changed everything.

On January 15, 2015, he met with a bike accident and had to get his left leg amputated from the knee on the doctor’s advice. The then 17-year-old’s hopes of wresting were over. But his journey in sports didn’t. After getting a prosthetic leg attached in Pune, he took to para-sports, and Sumit has not looked back since.

Within four years, he broke the world record in the F64 category at the World Para Athletics Grand Prix in Italy in 2019 and broke his own record at the World Para Athletics championships in Dubai the same year.

Recognition and awareness important for para-athletes

Sumit was awarded the country’s highest sporting honour, the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award in 2021 and also the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award in March this year.

“Recognition is important for athletes,” he says, adding that he felt Devendra Jhajharia did not get enough appreciation in his heyday.

Jhajharia is India’s most decorated para athlete with two golds and a silver medal in the F46 para-javelin throw during a career of over 18 years.

With Jhajharia winning the Padma Bhushan this year, Sumit feels the para athletes will no longer have to wait long to get noticed.

WATCH: Sumit Antil on Paralympics success, Neeraj Chopra and more

Talking about the approach of parasports among people, he says, “The biggest thing I would like to help with would be to increase awareness among people (about parasports) because most people do not really know how to go about it.”

“Initially, I myself did not know much about parasports,” says Sumit. “I browsed the internet and then met a parathlete in my village, Rajkumar Hooda. I got to know about the sport and its rules from him.”

After getting adapted to parasports, Sumit met Virendra Dhankar and Novel Singh in 2018. Virendra, who had won the silver medal at the 2018 Para Asian Games, and Novel Singh introduced Sumit to para javelin throw.

“I feel there is a lot of difference between normal sports and parasports,” Sumit says. “There are a lot of additional things that parathletes do which able-bodied athletes do not — like, in my case, bearing the pain in my stump.”

“When I throw, the entire pressure is exerted on my amputated leg. So that’s the most difficult part, to hold the pressure. It is a game of balance — better the balance, longer the throw. So, maintaining proper balance and holding the pressure becomes a huge task,” he adds.

“A fully-abled coach can never understand the pain of a parathlete”

 

Sumit stressed the need for more para coaches for parathletes. Sumit has been honing his skills in para javelin under the tutelage of Dhankar and Novel Singh since 2018.

A silver medallist at the 2018 Para Asian Games in the shot-put F56/57 category, Virendra was Sumit’s coach when he struck gold in Tokyo.

“There is a lot of difference between normal coaches and para coaches. A normal (fully-abled) coach can never understand the pain of a parathlete,” Sumit says.

“For instance, if an amputee kid comes to me for coaching, I will easily understand his difficulties, and where he is facing pain. I will do my best to help them as much as I can.”

He also appealed to the government to provide basic aid to the parathletes at the grassroots level so that they can focus on the sport beyond their impediments.

“The needs of a parathlete are a lot different than (fully-abled) athletes. In my case, just the javelin will not do. I need a good prosthetic leg, I need good stump socks — and similar gear for the affected area for other parathletes,” he says.

RELATED: 19 medals in Paralympics offer India a chance to dream and act

“When I started, I did not have a good prosthetic leg, but thanks to my father, who was in the Army, a good prosthetic leg was arranged for me. But everybody is not so lucky.”

The 24-year-old was last seen in action at the 2022 National Para Athletics Championships in Bhubaneswar, where he came up with his season-best of 66.05m.

“When the accident happened, the first thing that hit my mind is, ‘I will not be able to join the defence forces. But I feel proud now. I am serving my country in my own way,” Sumit says.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :