Indian para-athletes enjoyed a terrific year that saw many new world champions emerging from across different sports. Our para-athletes have also had outstanding outing at the biggest event of the year, the Asian Para Games.
In 2023, Indian para-athletes have confirmed more than 30 quota places for the Paris Paralympics, the most important para-event in 2024. These included quota places in sports like Para-Canoeing, Para-Archery, Para-Shooting, and Para-Athletics.
Here, The Bridge takes a closer look at the top five performers of Indian para-sports in the year 2023:
Sumit Antil - Javelin Throw
Sumit Antil has been one of the most consistent Indian para-athletes. He has been increasing his medal cabinet yearlong. He first won the world championship title in the men's javelin throw F64 category after breaking his world record with his first throw of the competition, i.e., 70.83m.
He continued his penchant for setting up a new world record every time he stepped onto the field. At the Asian Para Games, he broke the world record again at the Yellow Dragon Sports Centre in Hangzhou, China, to claim the gold medal with a throw of 73.29m.
He also confirmed his quota place for the Paris Paralympics at the world championships; he is now the clear favourite to defend his Paralympics gold medal next year. He now stands a chance to become the first para-player to cross the 75m mark.
Rakesh Kumar - Compound archery
Rakesh Kumar is one of the most experienced para-archers in India. He has won a world championship gold medal this year in the mixed team compound event partnering Sarita. This was India's first-ever gold in the history of the competition.
He has won a total of nine medals for India this year, including three at the Asian Para Games. He also completed a hat-trick of gold medals at the Asian Para Archery Championships in Bangkok, Thailand.
Rakesh ended the year as a world no.2 compound para-archer and also bagged a Paris Olympic quota place for India. He missed out on a medal at the last Paralympics. So, he will be more eager to claim that medal next year.
Nishad Kumar - High Jump
Nishad Kumar is another stalwart in Indian para-athletics, and he keeps getting better in every tournament. The 24-year-old won his second world championship medal this year at the Paris World Para-Athletic Championships.
He won a silver medal at the event with a new Asian record of 2.09m in the men's high jump T47 event. He followed this up with the Asian Para Games gold medal with a 2.02m jump.
Nishad will be looking forward to touching a new height of 2.10m in the new year ahead of the Paralympics, for which he has already confirmed a quota place.
Rudransh Khandelwal - Para Shooting
Rudransh Khandelwal has emerged as a new superstar in the world of para-shooting. At just 16, Khandelwal has won several international medals for India and also broken a world record. He is now among the world’s finest shooters. Khandelwal won a gold medal in the mixed 50m pistol SH1 event with a score of 231.1 at the World Cup in Osijek, Croatia.
The teenage sensation proved his star quality at the World Shooting Para Sport Championships in Lima again when he took home a silver in the mixed 50m pistol SH1 category along with the team silver medal. The youngest competitor in the championships was narrowly beaten by Azerbaijan’s Kamran Zeynalov in the final.
He continued his magnificent journey in the Asian Para Games where he added two silver medals to his tally, winning the 10m air pistol and 50m mixed pistol events. He is now ranked third in the world in the P1 event and will be a big prospect going into the Paris Paralympics.
Sheetal Devi - Para archery
Sheetal Devi is the latest entry in the rich history of Indian compound archery. She had an outstanding year which saw her rising to the top of world rankings in the women's compound open category after her gold medal-winning performance at the Asian Para Games in Hangzhou, China.
The 16-year-old started her international career in 2023 but hasn't taken much time to adjust. She claimed a silver medal at her first-ever international tournament. Displaying her remarkable consistency, she has played four tournaments this year and reached the individual gold medal match in each of them.
Sheetal has already won ten international medals in such a short time, including an individual silver medal at world championships. Sheetal's next target will be to clinch a medal at her debut Paralympics to be held in 2024. India has already secured a maximum of two quota places in the women's compound category.