After Tokyo Paralympics, silver medallist Praveen Kumar hungry for more success
In childhood, para athlete Praveen Kumar was always discouraged from taking up sport but he went on to become a silver medallist at the Tokyo Paralympics. Back then, people would say sport wasn’t his cup of tea due to physical issues. But his love of athleticism kept him going, and he never missed a chance to play volleyball.
Praveen Kumar, son of a poor farmer from a village near Jewar in Gautam Buddha Nagar district, has a congenital impairment that affects the bones that connect his hip to his left leg. He surprised everyone by bagging a silver medal in the men’s high jump T64 category at the Tokyo Paralympics early this month.
“Those words of discouragement always inspired me to keep working hard in sport. That’s the reason I made it. I am thankful to the people who, in fact, gave me courage to excel,” said Praveen Kumar, who cleared 2.07 metre at the Tokyo Games to set a new Asian record.
Praveen Kumar fell short of the gold medal by a whisker. Great Britain’s Jonathan Broom-Edwards, who notched up his season’s best of 2.10m, claimed the gold.
“I am just 18 now and have a long way to go. The 2022 Asian Para Games would be an opportunity for me to change the colour of my Tokyo Games medal. I am sure to win a gold medal at the 2024 Paris Paralympics,” said Praveen Kumar, who begins his training from Monday at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in New Delhi.
Even after winning the silver medal at the Paralympics, his life hasn’t changed much.
“My perception towards my life, especially targets, hasn’t changed, but people’s perspective on me has altered a lot. Now, people around me want to spend time with me, discuss sport and even request selfies,” he said.
“I know how tempting this change is but I am focused on bigger targets in life, including a gold medal at the Paris Paralympics in 2024,” he said.
World no. 3 in men’s high jump T44 category, Praveen Kumar had his first international medal, also a silver, in men’s high jump T44 in the World Para Athletics Junior Championship at Nottwil, Switzerland, in 2019 before winning a gold medal with a new Asian Record in World Para Athletics FAZZA Grand Prix at Dubai early this year.
“Both the medals boosted my confidence ahead of the Tokyo Games and I was very sure of a podium finish even before my first jump there,” said Praveen Kumar, who is pursuing the Bachelor of Arts course from Motilal College at Delhi University.
“Politics and history are my favourite subjects, but my first love in sport is still volleyball. In fact, Satyapal Sir changed my life as he was the one who asked me to take up high jump and even coached me to this level.”
He said he took part in a district-level competition where he met one Ashok Saini who gave him the phone number of Satyapal Sir.
Praveen Kumar, who is just in his second year in the international circuit, said the ₹4 crore cash award, which he would get from the Uttar Pradesh government next week, would be spent wisely.
“I have no fixed plans on how I am going to spend the cash award, but it would be used wisely. I have seen my family struggling for everything and being a member of a joint family I have certain responsibilities too on my shoulders,” he said.
“Right now, money isn’t my focus area. I’m hungry for more success at the international level.”
“The silver medal in Tokyo Games has just kick-started my sporting career and I have a long way to go,” said Praveen Kumar, who appreciates the support of his parents, the sports ministry and Paralympic Committee of India in achieving this success.
“They all stood behind me like rocks and only then I could achieve this medal.”
His coach Satyapal said he initially had some reservations about Praveen’s short stature but found he had very strong muscles on his right leg.
“His left leg is the impaired one but his right leg has very strong muscles. So, despite his short stature, I took him under my wings,” Satyapal said.
He also said Praveen Kumar was a sure shot gold medal candidate at the Asian Para Games next year in Hangzhou in China.
“He started competing in international events only two years back and now he has won a silver medal at Paralympics. He is quite young and will be the country’s top Paralympian in future,” the coach added.