‘Guide runners never get their due’
Ankur Dhama gold medal in 1500m, 5000m in T11 category
For someone who had just done the double in T11 category, for visually impaired athletes, Ankur Dhama’s biggest grouse is how his guide runner, Dharmendra, who helped him win, never gets his due. Dhama, a para sports coach with the Sports Authority of India, says winning in Hangzhou was a joint effort. “The guide runners are our eyes and in recognition the International Paralympic Committee awards them medals and certificates. But in India, they are not treated on a par with us,” Dhama says.
“Dharmendra has trained with me for over 15 months now. We should change the rules so that guide runners also get their due in prize money and job opportunities,” he adds.
During T11 track events, the athlete and the runner have to literally mimic each other’s movements, synchronise their stride length and their pace, while attached together with a string at their wrists.
Dhama was India’s first blind Paralympian to compete at the Rio Games in 2016. He had been struggling since the pandemic. He failed to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. The gold in China, he says, has given him the confidence to make a harder pitch for the Paris Games next year.
Para athletes are judged unfairly
Shailesh Kumar gold in men’s T63 high jump
Shailesh Kumar is chuffed on being congratulated by the Prime Minister after he won the gold medal. For the man from Islamnagar in Jamui, Bihar, it was not only the gold but a Games record as well, as the high jumper out-performed the two-time Paralympics medallist, Thangavelu Mariyappan, with a leap of 1.82 metres. Mariyappan had to settle for silver. Shailesh, whose right leg is polio-affected, has been a high jumper since 2013. Initially, he was competing against able-bodied athletes. It was only in 2017 that he got to know about para sports and he made the switch.
- It was a historic moment for India’s para sports as the country won 100-plus medals in the 4th Asian Para Games at Hangzhou, China, which concluded on October 28.
- It was India’s best-ever medal tally at the continental meet, surpassing the previous record haul of 72 medals at the 2018 Asian Para Games.
- Indian para athletes broke three world records — javelin thrower Sundar Singh Gurjar in the men’s javelin throw-F46 discipline (68.6m), Sumit Antil in the men’s javelin throw-F64 (73.29m) and the men’s compound archery team with a score of 158.
- The para badminton team won 21 medals — 4 gold, 4 silver and 13 bronze — at the Hangzhou Games.
The change, however, has not spared him the sneers from able-bodied athletes. Shailesh, who trains in SAI’s Gandhinagar facility, says, “They don’t see our suffering. I practically compete with one leg. If I suffer an injury on my strong leg, my career will be over. We do have categories that are based on the extent of disability but that does not mean we do not train hard or get a medal by simply showing up for competitions.”
Shailesh dedicates this win to his late coach Binod Chauhan, who died in a car accident six months ago.
Hard work pays off
Sumit Antil gold, men’s javelin F64 event
Sonepat lad Sumit Antil (25), the reigning Paralympic and world champion, threw the javelin to a distance of 73.29m to win the gold and also improved his own world record in the men’s javelin F64 event.
The F64 category is for athletes with a leg amputation who compete in standing position using prosthetics.
From Khewra village, Sumit broke his own world record (70.83m) set at the World Para Athletics Championships in Paris earlier this year. Another Indian in action, Pushpendra Singh, bagged a bronze with a throw of 62.06m. Sumit’s biggest achievement so far has been the gold at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, where he had set a world record at 68.55m.
The 2021 Khel Ratna awardee wanted to be a wrestler but a bike accident in 2015 resulted in the amputation of his left leg below the knee. It is due to his skill and perseverance that he is rubbing shoulders with the best in the world. He has trained with Neeraj Chopra.
First female archer without arms on a gold spree
Para archer Sheetal Devi 2 gold, 1 silver
ALL of 16, Sheetal Devi from Loi Dhaar village in Kishtwar (Jammu and Kashmir) is India’s first female archer without arms. She won two gold medals in the women’s individual and mixed event, and a silver in women’s doubles event.
The wiry village girl shoots around 300 arrows to a distance of 50m every day and hits tens everytime. The way Sheetal shoots effortlessly is awe-inspiring. She sits on a chair, holds the 2.5-kg bow with her legs, picks up an arrow from the ground with toes and adjusts it on the bow. She then lifts the bow up with her right leg, the left leg maintains her balance, and she pulls the string back with a releaser strapped to her right shoulder. She then shoots the arrow with a trigger held in her mouth.
The eldest daughter of a farmer, Maan Singh, and Shakti Devi, Sheetal was born with a disability due to a medical condition known as phocomelia, a rare congenital deformity in which hands or legs are underdeveloped or absent.
Her journey in archery took off two years ago at the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Academy, Katra. In 2019, she attended a camp organised by Rashtriya Rifles in Kishtwar. Within six months, she had won a silver at the Para Open Nationals, 2022, in Sonepat.
In July, she won a silver at the World Para Archery Championships in Czech Republic, becoming the first armless woman to compete internationally. Her next stop — 2024 Paralympics in Paris. “I can’t believe how life has changed for me. I feel lucky and blessed. A gold in Paris would be great,” says the Class XI student.
The golden couple
Prachi Yadav gold, para canoe KL2 event; silver, para kayak VL2 event
Manish Kaurav bronze, men’s para canoe KL3 event
Gwalior couple Prachi Yadav (27) and Manish Kaurav (28) won three of the four medals for India in the maiden para canoe event in the Para Asian Games in Hangzhou. Prachi got the gold in the canoe KL2 event and a silver in the kayak VL2 event. Manish won the bronze in the men’s KL3 event. Prachi has been paralysed below her waist since childhood while Manish was born with a locomotive disability.
“We met at the MP Water Sports Academy in Bhopal and got married three years ago. We train with able-bodied athletes under coach Captain Pijush Kanti Baori in Bhopal and it has helped in improving our timing. He gives us an advantage of a few metres during practice because the para canoe boats are heavier due to additional gear to maintain balance, whereas boats of able-bodied athletes are lighter and hence faster because they are narrow,” explains Prachi, who had also participated in the Tokyo Paralympics.
The duo, supported by sponsors TOPS and OGQ, is the first couple to win medals in the Para Asian Games. They also won three gold medals in the Para Asian Canoe Championships in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, recently. “Winning the gold in the Paralympics would be the ultimate achievement. We hope it would help us get the promised government jobs,” Prachi and Manish say in unison.
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