After all the fandom and fervour of the Tokyo Olympics, it's time to cheer team India for the Tokyo Paralympics, which begins on August 24. This time around, the shout-out for Indian Paralympians should be louder as the nation is sending its largest contingent for the Tokyo Paralympics.
Since 1984, India has participated in each Summer Paralympics edition. The nation's official debut was at the 1968 Summer Paralympics. India had 19 athletes participate in the Rio Paralympics. The upcoming edition will witness debuts in sports like badminton
A total of 54 Indian athletes will compete across nine sports. Indian para-athletes will participate in archery, para canoeing, athletics, shooting, table tennis, swimming, badminton, powerlifting, and taekwondo. Last edition's gold medallist, high jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu will be the flag bearer for India at the Tokyo Paralympics.
Javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia
To date, India's best outing at the Paralympic Games has yielded four medals, which came during the 1984 Games and in the 2016 Games. In the 1984 New York Paralympics, Bhimrao Kesarkar won a silver medal in Men's Javelin L6 category, while Joginder Singh Bedi - raked up three medals - one silver, two bronzes in shotput, javelin throw, and discus throw, respectively.
Meanwhile, in the 2016 Rio Games, India saw unprecedented success where Mariyappan Thangavelu and Devendra Jhajaria won gold medals in their respective high jump and javelin throw events.
Deepa Malik became India's first woman Paralympic medallist when she won a silver in Shot Put. Varun Bhati also won a bronze medal in high jump. Thus, the 2016 Rio Games remain India's most successful campaign at the Paralympics.
Why India is well-placed for its best-ever Paralympics campaign?
The calculation could well change for the Indian team, as they will send 54 members to Tokyo Paralympics, a jump from 19 members (highest so far) from the Rio Games.
India will have a team where there are many medal prospects at multiple events.
India's best bet at Paralympics has been athletics. Out of the 12 medals, the country has won in the Games, ten have come from athletics. Once again, eyes will be upon Devendra Jhajharia, Mariyappan Thangavelu, and Varun Bhati, who will aim to repeat their exceptional feat in Tokyo.
Jhajharia broke his own world record with a throw of 65.71m in July earlier this year to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. Thangavelu has risen to his status since winning a gold medal at the 2016 Games. He even won a bronze at the 2019 World Para-Athletics Championships.
Bhati won a bronze medal at the 2017 World Para-Athletics Championships, a silver at the 2018 Asian Para Games, and will surely be one of the better medal prospects for India in Tokyo.
Among the new medal prospects, 36-year-old club thrower Ekta Bhyan will also be someone to watch out for. Bhyan has so far won multiple national titles in women's discus and club throw. She shot to fame with her gold medal-winning effort of 16.02m in and has since been established as the country's premier thrower in the women's F51 category.
Javelin thrower Sundar Singh Gurjar, who was considered one of India's best medal bets at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, suffered a disqualification last time. He would be eager to put the Rio debacle behind his back.
Another javelin thrower, Sumit Antil is ranked world number 1 in men's F64 for the year 2021. Hailing from the state of Haryana, Sumit Antil had thrown the javelin to a world record distance of 66.90m in F44/64 category during the National Para Athletics Championships.
India will have strong medal contenders in para badminton, the sport which is being introduced in Tokyo Paralympics. In this discipline, India's baton will be carried by the likes of Pramod Bhagat, Parul Parmar, Palak Kohli, among others.
Bhagat is currently ranked number 1 in the world. He is a multiple World Championships gold medallist in both singles and doubles. Meanwhile, Parmar and Kohli, who will pair up in the women's doubles event, have shown some terrific performances together and are currently ranked number 6 globally.
India will also root for its shooters, who have recently shown tremendous form and will be hopeful of medals at Tokyo. Avani Lekhara is ranked number 5 in the world in women's 10m air rifle currently.
In recent times, she has been in some good touch and had clinched a silver medal at the Para Shooting World Cup in March earlier this year. On the other hand, 19-year-old pistol shooter Manish Narwal is ranked number 4 in the men's 10m air pistol.
Lastly, India could win its second-ever Paralympics medal in swimming since Muralikant Petkar, as all eyes will be on 27-year-old Suyash Jadhav, who is the reigning Asian Games champion in 50m butterfly,
India's Chef de Mission for the Tokyo Paralympics, Gursharan Singh believes the country will produce its best-ever performance this year, returning with at least 15 medals, including five golds. "I am confident that these would be our best ever Paralympic Games. Our Para-athletes have worked very hard in the past years and shown great results in international competitions. They are raring to go for the Games," Singh, secretary-general of the Paralympic Committee of India, said in a release.
With so many top-notch athletes on the side, India is well placed to produce its best-ever result at the Paralympics in Tokyo.