The gold medal in men’s javelin throw F46 category in the Rio Paralympics made Devendra Jhajharia the most successful Indian para athlete ever but he is in no mood to stop here and is eyeing for a treble in the 2020 Tokyo Games.
The 35-year-old Jhajharia, a left-hand amputee, is the only Indian para athlete to have won two gold medals in the Paralympics, the earlier one being the yellow metal he won in 2004 Athens.
“I am not stopping here after the Rio success. I have enough gas in my tank and I will definitely go for gold in Tokyo. I know my body and I can still train two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening rigorously everyday, just like I did in the build-up to the Rio Paralympics,” Jhajharia told PTI in an interview.
“I have two gold from Paralympics and both of these are world records. But I am not going to rest with these laurels. I want to add another gold, a treble, in Tokyo in 2020,” he added.
But the catch is it’s not certain that Jhajharia’s event may be in 2020 Paralympics once again just like it was not there in the 2008 and 2012 Paralympics.
“The IPC decides which events (classifications) will be there in a Paralympics. There are a lot of classifications in the Paralympics based on the level of disability. For example, the IPC may decide that there will be 50 or 60 events in athletics in a Paralympics and accordingly classifications are made. IPC will decide next year during the IPC World Athletics Championships in London (in July) which events will be there in Tokyo,” he explained.
“I am hoping that my event will be there in 2020 Tokyo Paralympics,” he added.
Only three Indians have won a gold in the Paralympics. The first Indian to win a gold in Paralympics was Murlikant Petkar who bagged the yellow metal in men’s 50m freestyle in 1972 Heidelberg Games.
In Rio, Mariyappan Thangavelu also won a gold in men’s high jump T42 with Jhajharia bagging the second yellow metal in the same Games earlier this month.
Joginder Singh Bedi, however, remained the Indian with most medals in Paralympics, though without a gold. In the 1984 Paralympic Games at Stoke Mandeville and New York, he won a silver in men’s shot put L6, a bronze each in men’s discus throw L6 and men’s javelin L6.
Jhajharia also staked his claim for next year’s Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award. With the Sports Ministry also declaring that para athletes will also be considered at par with able-bodied athletes, Jhajharia feels that he has a bright chance to win the country’s highest sporting award next year.
“No Indian has won two gold medals in the Paralympics. I feel I have achieved something no Indian has ever achieved. It has been a long wait since 2004 and I am on the top of my sporting achievement,” Jhajharia said.
“I am very encouraged by Sports Minister’s comments that para athletes will be considered at par with abled-bodied athletes in terms of conferring sports awards and even Padma Awards. I feel that I am a strong contender for the Khel Ratna Award next year,” he added.
Jhajharia said he could have even got the Khel Ratna Award this year had the Paralympics finished before the National Sports Day, just like P V Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, Jitu Rai and Dipa Karmakar were conferred with the top award.
Besides his Paralympics success, Jhajharia has also won a gold in the 2013 IPC World Athletics Championships in Lyon, France in javelin throw F46. He followed this up with a silver in 2014 Asian Para Games in Incheon, and then with another silver in the 2015 IPC World Athletics Championships in Doha.
Jhajharia is the first Indian para athlete to have been conferred in 2012 with Padma Shri, the country’s fourth highest civilian award. He was conferred with Arjuna Award in 2004.
Jhajharia lauded the Sports Ministry for its unprecedented support for the para athletes in the build-up to the Rio Paralympics.
“The ministry spent a lot of money this time for the Paralympians. This was unprecedented. I was under Target Olympic Podium scheme and I trained for three months in Finland before the Rio Olympics,” he said.
“The gold I won in Rio was due to the Finland training. The conditions and facilities there was fantastic and that made a difference to my preparation. I thank sports ministry for sending me to Finland,” said Jhajharia who trained in Finland with his personal coach Sunil Tanwar.
“The Indian contingent did very well in Rio Paralympics. If the ministry continue to support para athletes like this, our performance in international events will keep on improving. I think we will do even better in 2020 Tokyo Paralympics,” he said.
Asked about his future plans, Jhajharia said he will take rest for a few months before the start of IPC World Athletics Championships next year in London.
“It has been a hectic training schedule before Rio Paralympics and then the Paralympics itself. So, it has been hectic four-five months. I will take rest for a while and start training for IPC World Championships in London next year. That is the biggest event coming up and on my radar,” he added.
Jhajharia met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday at his official residence and the para athlete said it was one of his most cherished moments.
“The Prime Minister told me my achievements will inspire the nation in seeking sporting excellence and he told me to continue to bring laurels for the country.
“I have met three Prime Ministers so far and among them he (PM Modi) is the most knowledgeable about sports and to me he is a man of action with a lot of zeal. I feel under him, Indian sport can move ahead fast,” he added.