Turning impossibilities into reality - India's show at Asian Para Games highlights changing sporting ecosystem
The 111 medals won by Indian para-athletes at the Asian Para Games show India's rise in the domain of sports. But this is not just a number - each medal is a distinctive noteworthy life story.
At the recently concluded Asian Para Games, some exceptional Indian athletes won a staggering 111 medals. This is not just a number - each medal is a distinctive noteworthy life story.
The 309-member Indian contingent this year, comprising 196 men and 113 women, competed in 17 sports out of 22 and won medals in 12 sports. Coming to how the numbers signify the changing ecosystem of sports in the country, this is up from 190 athletes in 13 sports in the previous edition held in 2018. India also made its first appearance in blind football, rowing, lawn bowls, canoeing, and taekwondo. The percentage of women participants in the contingent has risen by 10 per cent from the last edition.
Not only that more Indian para-athletes making their marks in more sports, but the Asian Para Games showed how gender parity is also part of the growth story of Indian sports.
The para-athletes at the Asian Para Games won four more medals than India's able-bodied athletes in the Asian Games. This was truly a remarkable feat in a highly populous country that has a long road ahead to becoming a disability-friendly country. Breaching the 100-medal mark in just the fourth edition of the Asian Para Games is a huge deal for the country as well as the 309 representatives, their allies and the section of society with disabilities in search of dignified lives.
Their lives and the lives of people around them were improved by sport, but the risks they take in the hopes of winning are unsettling, as are the disability and related stigma they had to overcome. Federations, sports authorities and corporations have all come forward to support and uplift para-sports over the years, removing a few challenges in their route to sporting glory.
Stories of power para-sports couple Manish Kaurav and Prachi Yadav, who won medals in the fairly unknown sport of Para-Canoeing in their debut appearance, and 16-year-old Sheetal Devi, an armless archer from Jammu and Kashmir, demonstrated that accessibility, interest, and backing of sports across gender, even in the remotest of areas and unheard-of sports, is becoming significantly better.
India at Asian Para Games: An Overview
India had sent 109 representatives to the first Para Asian Games. The number fell by 22 to 87 in the 2014 edition before it rose to 190 in 2018 and 309 in this edition. Of these 309, more than a third returned with medals. At the 2018 edition, India had clinched 72 medals in 9 sports.
India ranked 5th in the medal tally this time with 29 golds, 31 silver, and 51 bronze, the number of gold medals having almost doubled from the previous edition.
There are surprisingly 26 multiple medalists at this edition - Ankur Dhama won the gold medal in both the T11 5000m and the men's T11 1500m events, making history as the first Indian to win two gold medals in a single Asian Para Games competition. Then there is an inspiring archer, Sheetal Devi, who scripted a similar feat, adding a silver to her two gold medals.
In the spectacle of performance, not only were medals won by the Indian para-athletes, but also world records were broken and made by them.
With the unprecedented rise of the javelin throw, Indian throwers, just like their able-bodied counterparts at the Asian Games, displayed their mastery. Breaking a world record has become a habit of sorts for them.
Reigning Paralympics champion Sumit Antil won gold in the javelin throw F64 event with a 73.29m throw while Sundar Singh Gurjar also set the world record in the javelin throw F46 event with a 68.60m effort. Neeraj Yadav clinched a gold medal in the men's javelin throw F55 event, setting a Games record of 33.69m. Then, Men's Javelin Throw F46 saw a clean sweep, with Sundar Singh Gurjar winning gold, as Rinku Hooda and Ajeet Singh bagged the silver and bronze medals.
India displayed sheer dominance by clean sweeping four events, three in para-athletics - Men's Club throw F51, Men's Discus Throw F54/55/56, and Men's Javelin Throw F46, and the last one in Men's Individual Rapid VI-B1 Chess.
Sheetal Devi, the first female archer without arms to compete internationally, who just wished to wear bangles, defied all the conventional methods and scripted history by winning double gold at a single edition of the Asian Para Games. Sheetal won a total of three medals, gold in women's individual, gold in the compound mixed team event, and women's doubles silver.
Suyash Jadhav secured India’s first and only medal in swimming, a bronze in the men’s 50m butterfly S7 event with a timing of 32.22 seconds. A Paralympic quota was a sigh of relief for him after a disappointing show at the previous edition Paralympic.
Two-time world champion Pramod Bhagat continues to be the greatest para-badminton player in Indian history. The current Paralympic champion and defending Asian champion defeated fellow Indian Nitesh Kumar to win the event.
And the one who never disappoints, with an Asian record of 249.6 to win the gold medal, the Paralympic champion Avani Lekhara now has won an Asian medal in her collection of accomplishments.
The extravaganza put up by the Indian contingents at both the Asian Para Games and the Asian Games is unprecedented and justifies the exponential growth of the sport in all domains, categories, and spheres in the country. Even if there are question marks whether India is capable of hosting an event of the scale of the Olympics, the country's rising sporting trajectory shows huge leaps have been made.