Records tumbled and history was scripted more than once as India's Paralympians, both young and old, recorded their best ever Games medal haul on just the sixth day of competitions in Tokyo, making it a memorable Monday for the country. The debutant duo of javelin thrower Sumit Antil, 23, and shooter Avani Lekhara, 19, shone the brightest with their epoch-making gold medals and there was a silver each for the 40-year-old veteran Devendra Jhajharia (javelin) and Yogesh Kathuniya (discus), along with a bronze for Sundar Singh Gurjar (javelin).
To put the performance into perspective, it is worth mentioning that India have so far won 14 medals in the history of Paralympics, with half of them coming in the ongoing competition, which is expected to yield more for the country. India have so far won five medals in athletics (one gold, three silver and one bronze). The silver medal from table tennis player Bhavinaben Patel came on Sunday.
The country stood 26th in the medals tally, an unprecedented high, surpassing the four medals it had won in 2016 Rio Paralympics. However, in a heartbreak for the contingent, discus thrower Vinod Kumar (F52) lost his bronze won on Sunday after he was found “ineligible” in reassessment of his disability classification.
But that was after Lakhera, 19, became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the Paralympics, firing her way to the top of the podium in the R-2 women's 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1 event. Jaipur's Lakhera, who sustained spinal cord injuries in a car accident in 2012, finished with a world record equalling total of 249.6, which was also a new Paralympic record.
Then, capping off India's day in a blaze of glory, debutant Antil smashed his own world record five times for the F64 class gold, while Jhajharia's F46 category silver cemented his status of being India's greatest para-athlete as javelin throwers led the country's track-and-field medal rush at the showpiece.
In between, another javelin thrower Gurjar picked up bronze in Jhajharia's event, while discus thrower Kathuniya's F56 silver ensured that India made its presence felt across the podium and through the day.
MAN OF THE MOMENT
The man of the moment was, however, the 23-year-old Antil as he bludgeoned his way to the top of the podium with an astonishing fifth attempt of 68.55m mark, which was the best of the day by quite a distance and a new world record. “In training, I have thrown 71m, 72m, many times. I don't know what happened in my competition. One thing is for sure: in future I will throw much better,” Antil said after the stupendous performance.
Hailing from Sonepat in Haryana, Antil, who lost his left leg below the knee after he was involved in a motorbike accident in 2015, bettered the previous world record of 62.88m, also set by him, five times on the day.
His series, which read 66.95, 68.08, 65.27, 66.71, 68.55 and foul, made it seem that he was perhaps competing only with himself.
The F64 category is for athletes with a leg amputation, who compete with prosthetics in a standing position. A student of Delhi's Ramjas College, Antil was an able-bodied wrestler before his accident which led to the amputation of his leg below the knee. A para athlete in his village initiated him to the sport in 2018. It was tough for him initially as he battled pain and loss of blood because of his prosthetic leg. But, Antil never quit and continued his dream of reaching the top. Son of a JWO officer in the Indian Army, Antil also competed against Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra in the able-bodied Indian Grand Prix series 3 on March 5 in Patiala where he finished seventh with a best throw of 66.43m.
Jhajharia, meanwhile, clinched a stupendous third Paralympic medal, a silver this time, while Kathuniya finished second in his event. Gurjar also chipped in with a bronze, finishing behind Jhajharia.
The F46 classification is for athletes with arm deficiency, impaired muscle power or impaired passive range of movement in arms, with athletes competing in a standing position.