India's incredible medal rush at the Tokyo Paralympics continued as Mariyappan Thangavelu and Sharad Kumar won silver and bronze respectively in the men's high jump T63 event on Tuesday in Tokyo. Sharad cleared 1.83m, while Mariyappan's best clearance was 1.86m. Three-time reigning world champion Sam Grewe of U.S. took gold after clearing 1.88m on his third attempt.
India's medal tally now stands at 10 at these Paralympics. They have now won two golds, five silvers and three bronzes at these Games. Mariyappan had won gold in this event at the Rio Paralympics and Varun Singh Bhati had won bronze, while Sharad had finished sixth in Rio. Grewe had won silver in the previous Olympics. Bhati finished 7th here after clearing 1.77m. In a repeat of the 2016 Paralympics, India scooped up two of the three places on the podium in this category.
Mariyappan now joins Joginder Singh Bedi and Devendra Jhajharia as the only Indians to win multiple medals at the Paralympics. Jhajharia and Bedi have both won three medals each.
"I could have won gold and claimed the world record. I came here with that aim. But the rain played spoilsport. It was a drizzle initially but after the 1.80m mark, it became heavy. The sock on my other leg (the impaired right leg) got wet and it was difficult to jump," Mariyappan said after the event.
"In Rio, the weather was great and I won gold. I will try for gold and world record in Paris 2024," he added.
The podium was a repeat of the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships, with Mariyappan and Sharad exchanging places. Grewe had won gold there too. Grewe, in fact, has won gold at each of the last three Worlds, while Sharad has claimed silver at the last two editions of the event.
Sharad said that he was carrying an injury which affected his performance. "I had an injury on my leg, meniscus dislocated (a type of knee injury) yesterday. I thought of pulling out today but spoke to my family back home. They said just go ahead. Told me to read Bhagawat Gita and focus on what I can do and not on what I have no control over," he said.
In a star-studded field that comprised as many as six Worlds/Olympic medalists, the Indians were in fine form and lived up to their medal favourites status.
Mariyappan became an overnight sensation after his gold medal-winning effort in Rio and has since gone on to win bronze at the Asian Para Games (2018) and World Para Athletics Championships (2019).
Mariyappan's right leg had to be amputated below the knee at the age of five after it was run over by a drunk bus driver.
He cleared a height of 1.89m at the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics to become the second Indian to win an athletics gold medal at the Paralympics.
He was India's flagbearer at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Para Asian Games and was also going to be India's flagbearer at the opening ceremony in Tokyo before having to miss the opportunity after coming in contact with a Covid infected person.
"Yes, it was very upsetting that I could not become the flag bearer. Moreover, I had to get isolated and also train alone because of quarantine rules," he said when asked about the same.
Sharad made his international debut at the 2010 Asian Para Games. He became World No. 1 at the age of 19 in 2012, but a failed drug test meant he missed the 2012 Paralympics. He came back with a gold at the 2014 Asian Para Games and won gold again at the 2018 edition. He finished sixth at the 2016 Rio Paralympics and won silver at the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships.
At the age of two, he suffered a paralysis of his left leg after reportedly being given fake polio medication at a local eradication drive. He started high jump in school, where he broke school and district records against able-bodied athletes. He has been training out of Ukraine (since 2017) under the government's Target Olympic Podium Scheme. Having graduated with an MA in International Relations from Delhi University, Sharad is now pursuing a course in International Business Management from the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute.
With inputs from Anirudh Menon