If we chart India’s Paralympics performance since the 2004 Athens Games where we grabbed gold in javelin and bronze in the powerlifting 56kg category, we weren’t able to replicate or better our efforts four years later at Beijing. Two of our para-athletes came close to the podium — Farman Basha in powerlifting and Naresh Sharma in shooting. We had expected medal-winning performances but unfortunately, they both fell short. Few of the others in the squad managed to finish in the top-10.
Now, looking at the London Games, which commences next week, I can’t confidently predict that India will grab a gold medal. In 2004, I was already the world record holder and was expected to bring home a medal. This time round, unfortunately, I can’t really predict a gold-winning performance. League of extraordinary men
We have 10 athletes taking part in the Games — five in athletics, three in powerlifting and one each in swimming and shooting. To be honest, there are high expectations from Basha. In Beijing, the powerlifter finished fourth. So, we hope Basha manages to bring home a medal this time. He will face tough competition from Iranian, Chinese and Korean powerlifters in his group. London will see swimmer Sharath Gayakwad making his debut for the country. To be honest, he will have to work very hard to be able to earn a medal. In athletics too, we hope there’s a medal.
India’s performances since 2004 have been going well. In fact, in the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, swimmer Prasanta Karmakar won a bronze medal.
One has to remember that the concept of para-sports is new in India. It’s difficult for us to compete with world class athletes because para-sports are so popular in other countries. We are still catching up to them.
But since 2004, the government support has been tremendous. Before Athens, there were no facilities, today they have increased by 100 per cent. The government has set up a coaching fund for our athletes and sent them to train in London. They were earlier training at the SAI. Our athletes have also been trained by foreign coaches. It’s wonderful to see para-athletes getting the same facilities as able-bodies ones today.
As part of the selection committee, our main criteria to choose athletes to represent us at the Games were based on their recent performances and world rankings.
Today, with so much government backing and help, it’s unfortunate that there’s no outright star who has a sure-shot chance of bringing home a gold.
The columnist won gold medal at 2004 paralympics in Athens
LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY MEN
As the stage is set for the curtains to go up on the London Paralympics on August 29, HT presents the 10 sportspersons who will be representing India in the British capital.
Jagseer Singh, long jumper
Jagseer was in class 4 when he suffered an 11,000v shock. Soon after, his right arm started decaying due to a disease. The doctors decided to amputate the arm till the elbow. However, when he saw former javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia bag gold at the Athens Paralympic Games, Jagseer decided
to take up athletics seriously.
Jagseer trains for five to six hours daily and is highly motivated for London. “My only aim is to bring a gold medal from London and make my country proud,” he says.
Sharath Gayakwad, swimmer
Born with a short left arm, Sharath has been swimming competitively for more than a decade now but will be making his Paralympics debut in London. Initially, he swam just for fun, but later when his teachers started praising him, Sharath got more interested in the sport.
“I used to practice with the school team and it was during one such session that my coach, John Christopher spotted me. Whatever I am today, I owe it to him,” says the 21-year-old. “It is difficult to swim with one arm and maintain balance.”
Farman Basha, Powerlifter
The polio-afflicted para-athlete has brought many laurels to the country in the last 18 years. The 16th Asian Para-Games silver medallist in the 48kg category is also an Arjuna (2007) and Eklavya Award (2008) recipient.
Basha was India’s best performer at Beijing four years ago when he missed the bronze by a whisker, finishing fourth in 48kg weight category.
Behind every successful man is a woman and for Basha it is his wife, Antonita Farman, who runs the family and helps the para-lifter train.
“My wife has supported me throughout. She is my escort at all the events. I have given my life to sports but I still have no job. A company sponsors me with R5000-5500 per month and my wife contributes the rest of the amount. This issue has been highlighted more than once, but nobody seems to care,” says Basha, who is cautious about his chances as luck deserted him in 2008.
Naresh Kumar Sharma, Shooter
The polio-afflicted wheelchair athlete is participating at the Paralympics for the third time. The 40-year-old marksman took part in competitions in Germany and London in the run-up to the Paralympics.
“My training has gone well. I have worked very hard under German coach Manfred Goras and he is helping me get ready. The event in London was not that good because of a technical glitch, but otherwise I am confident of a good show,” he says.
However, Naresh had to spend some sleepless nights before reaching London because of a confusion over his disciplines. He had qualified for three events — R1, R6 and Rs. 7 — but the initial roster listed him for just one event, that is, R1. But his hectic efforts have paid and the issue is resolved now.
Text: Priya Mahindroo