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India’s first paralympic gold medalist wants more tournaments for para-athletes

India’s first Paralympic gold medalist swimmer Murlikant Petkar was sitting in the first row when union minister of youth affairs and sports Kiren Rijiju launched the Khelo India State Centre of Excellence (KISCE) at the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex, Balewadi on Monday
By Jigar Hindocha, Pune
PUBLISHED ON JAN 22, 2021 10:55 PM IST

India’s first Paralympic gold medalist swimmer Murlikant Petkar was sitting in the first row when union minister of youth affairs and sports Kiren Rijiju launched the Khelo India State Centre of Excellence (KISCE) at the Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex, Balewadi on Monday.

“Like Khelo India, tournaments for para-athletes should also be organised every year,” Petkar said.

Petkar (73) won an individual gold medal in 50-meter freestyle swimming event in 37.33 seconds at the Summer Paralympics 1972 held at Heidelberg, Germany.

Born exactly two months after India got Independence on November 1, 1947, Petkar has seen a lot of ups and downs in life facing every adversity bravely.

Petkar’s tagline for life is converting the hardships into opportunities.

“What sports minister said regarding the development of athletes from the age of eight is very true. Identifying athletes from a young age makes the difference,” said Petkar who was awarded the Padma Shri in 2018.

Earlier, it was a rare sight to see Paralympic athletes being felicitated, however, things have changed.

For Petkar, it was a proud feeling when Swarp Unhalkar who qualified for the 10m air rifle shooting category for the Tokyo Paralympics was felicitated by Rijiju during his recent visit to Pune.

“No one cared for athletes like us in the past. There was always a scarcity of funds, training equipment but the situation has changed now for para-athletes and people are coming forward to help,” added Petkar, who was stuck with bullets during the 1965 India-Pakistan war at the Sialkot sector where he went for a holiday.

One bullet still remains in his spinal cord of the nine that pierced his body.

Petkar faced bullet injuries but his love for sports remained intact as he entered the para-athlete category and started taking part in all events.

Petkar participated in state, national and international tournaments. Until 1982, he had piled up on medals in a range of categories.

Along with swimming, Petkar used to play shot put, javelin throw, discus throw, weight lifting, table tennis and archery.

“I left sports after 1982 and focused on the improvement of sports,” he said.

Petkar believes that sports are now getting financial support, however, the focus must be put on playing facilities and arranging tournaments in every city.

Box: 1

Top honours

2018 – Padma Shri Award

1975 – Shiv Chhatrapati Award

A history of achievements

1982 - Gold and another world record in 50m swimming; bronze medal in javelin throw at the International FESPIC Games in Hong Kong.

1976 – Represented India at the Paralympics held at Toronto Canada in August 1976.

1975 – Gold and another world record in swimming at Stoke Mandeville International Paraplegic Meet, UK; won silver in shot-put.

1971 – Gold in 50 M freestyle swimming and silver in the javelin throw at Stoke Mandeville, England.

1970 – Gold in 50m freestyle swimming, silver in the javelin throw and bronze in shot-put at the 3rd Commonwealth Paraplegic Games held at Edinburgh, Scotland.

1969 – Gold in 50 m freestyle swimming at Stoke Mandeville International Paraplegic Meet (England).

1968 – Gold in the Paraplegic category for 50m swimming at the International Games at Moscow.

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