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Tokyo Paralympics 2020: Six Big Indian Athletes to Watch Out For

India have sent their largest ever contingent with 54 athletes taking part across 9 sports in Tokyo Paralympics.

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Olympic Sports
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After the emotional and enjoyable 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where India finished with their best ever haul with 7 medals, the focus of the sporting world stays with the Land of the Rising Sun as the Paralympic Games promises another entertaining fortnight.

For India, who had their best campaign in Rio in 2016, finishing with 2 Gold medals, a Silver and a Bronze, the aim will be to match highs of the recently concluded Olympic Games.

India had previously won four medals in 1984 in New York, but none were Golds.

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In all, India have won 12 medals at the Paralympic Games – four golds and as many silver and bronze medals in 11 appearances at the Games and Deepa Malik is the only female athlete to win a Paralympic medal. She finished with silver in the shot put F53 event at Rio with a throw of 4.61m.

India’s first medal at the Paralympic Games came in swimming in 1972 when a veteran of the 1965 Indo-Pak War, Murlikant Petkar, clinched Gold in the men’s 50m freestyle 3 event, clocking 37.33 seconds – a world record then.

Just like the Tokyo Olympics, India is sending their largest contingent with more than 50 athletes to the Paralympic Games, delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this contingent, there are some looking to rewrite history while some are making notable debuts.

The Indian Contingent

In Tokyo, India’s contingent has 54 athletes who are set to compete across nine sports including, archery, athletics, badminton, canoeing, shooting, swimming, powerlifting, table tennis and taekwondo.

India’s flag-bearer and leader of the contingent at the opening ceremony will be Mariyappan Thangavelu, who is a high jumper and the defending champion having won Gold at Rio in 2016.

Along with him the experienced Devendra Jhajharia will be looking to complete a special hat-trick while Pramod Bhagat, a badminton star, will make his Games debut alongside the sport. There will be seven Indians in the badminton event while a record 10 shooters have qualified for the event too.

The athletics team has 24 members including four women while there are five archers competing in Tokyo.

India will begin their campaign on 27 August, with men's and women's archery events.

Here’s a look at some of India’s top medal prospects at the Tokyo Paralympics.

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Devendra Jhajharia (F-46 Javelin)

India have sent their largest ever contingent with 54 athletes taking part across 9 sports in Tokyo Paralympics.

A legend in Indian athletics, Jhajharia is the defending champion in his event having won Gold in Rio in 2016 and in Athens 2004, in between for 12 years the F-46 javelin event was not included at the Paralympic Games.

India’s greatest Paralympian, he had set a world record in Rio with a throw of 63.97m and smashed that record in July 2021 with a throw of 65.71m to qualify for Tokyo. His throw in Athens too was a world record where he threw 62.15m.

The 40-year-old has been conferred with the Padma Shri Award in 2021 (first Para Athlete to get the award), Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2017 and Arjuna Award in 2005.

At what is possibly his final appearance at the highest level, Jhajharia will look to go out on a high and is one of India’s brightest medal prospects.

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Sumit Antil (F-64 Javelin)

India have sent their largest ever contingent with 54 athletes taking part across 9 sports in Tokyo Paralympics.

Not as experienced as Jhajharia, the 23-year-old Sumit is the world number 1 in the F-64 category for this year. He also holds the world record with a throw of 66.90m during the National Para Athletics Championships.

He has also won Silver medals at the World Para Athletics Grand Prix 2019, Paris Open Handisport 2019 and World Para Athletics Championships 2019.

While Sumit will be in the shadow of his more illustrious teammate, he secured his berth for the Tokyo Paralympics during the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships.

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Mariyappan Thangavelu (Men’s High Jump T-42)

India have sent their largest ever contingent with 54 athletes taking part across 9 sports in Tokyo Paralympics.

Another of India’s more experienced athletes, Mariyappan is also a Gold medal winner at the Paralympics when he won the high jump event in Rio in 2016 and has since risen in stature taking bronze at the 2019 World Para-Athletics Championships.

A Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee, Mariyappan will be the one leading out the Indian contingent at the opening ceremony in Tokyo.

At 26, his best years are still to come and with the experience of Rio behind him, Mariyappan is one of the athletes that India will turn to in their hopes for a medal.

While interacting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the awe-inspiring Mariyappan signed off with an inspirational message for all:

"I suffered an accident at a small age, but I did not let that deter me. I have been consistently looking to perform from 2011 onwards and wish to make the country proud once again in Tokyo. I want to tell every athlete to never give up."

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Pramod Bhagat (Badminton)

India have sent their largest ever contingent with 54 athletes taking part across 9 sports in Tokyo Paralympics.

As badminton makes its debut at the Paralympic Games, India’s Pramod Bhagat has a chance to leave his mark at the showpiece event. Hailing from Odisha, the 33-year-old is the world number 1 and competes in the Men’s SL3 event.

A veteran of sorts in his sport, Pramod has won multiple Gold medals at the World Championships with his most recent medal coming in 2020 in February at the Peru Para Badminton International where he was the top seed.

He has also finished with Gold and Bronze in the Men’s Singles and Men’s Doubles events at the Asian Para Games 2018. Before that he bagged Bronze medals at World Para Badminton Championships Ulsan, South Korea 2017 and the Asian Para Games 2014.

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Aruna Tanwar (Taekwondo)

India have sent their largest ever contingent with 54 athletes taking part across 9 sports in Tokyo Paralympics.

Early in June it was confirmed that Aruna Singh Tanwar would be going to Tokyo and creating history as she would be the first para-taekwondo player from India. Her journey is one of persistence and she was one of eight athletes from eight countries, who were offered the bipartite quotas for Tokyo by IOC and World Taekwondo.

The 21-year-old is ranked fourth in the world and will be competing in the 49 kg weight bracket in the K-43 category. She’s already got a Silver Asian Para Taekwondo championship in Vietnam in 2018, before the youngster won the bronze medal in the World Para Taekwondo Championship (2019) in Turkey, where she lost to world number one Victoria Marchuk of Ukraine.

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Rubina Francis (Shooting - 10m Air Pistol P2)

India have sent their largest ever contingent with 54 athletes taking part across 9 sports in Tokyo Paralympics.

The World Number 5 will lead the Indian shooting contingent at the Paralympic Games and is India’s first para pistol shooter at the Games.

The Gold Medallist from the Lima World Cup earlier in June in 2021 also set a world record in Peru and will be looking to continue her good form and momentum at the showpiece event.

She also won Bronze in P2 at 2019 WSPS World Cup, Osijek, Croatia and a Gold at the Junior World Record in P2 at 2019 WSPS World Cup, Bangkok, Thailand.

Having fought COVID-19 earlier in the year in May, the 22-year-old secured her Tokyo berth in emphatic style and is one of India’s more decorated para-shooters.

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