Mariyappan Thangavelu made history as he clinched the gold medal in men's high jump T-42 at Rio Paralympics on Friday. Another Indian Varun Singh Bhati won the bronze.
Thangavelu clinched gold with a jump of 1.89 metre while Bhati won the bronze with an attempt of 1.86m, which is also his personal best mark. The silver went to American Sam Grewe. India thus opened their account in Rio with two medals on the same day.
T-42 is a disability sport classification for differently-abled track and field athletes with single 'above the knee' amputations or a disability that is comparable.
The 20-year-old Thangavelu, with his stellar effort at Rio, became the first Indian high-jumper to win a gold medal at the Games. He is also the third Indian to win a gold at Paralympics after Murlikant Petkar (Swimming, 1972 Heidelberg) and Devendra Jhajharia (Javelin Throw, 2004 Athens).
After Thangavelu and Bhati's feat, India's overall medal tally in all Paralympic Games has reached 10 - three golds, three silvers and four bronze. At the 2012 Paralympics, HN Girisha became the first Indian high-jumper to win a medal.
The 20-year-old Mariyappan hails from a small village of Periavadagampatti, 50km from Salem, in Tamil Nadu.
At the age of five, a bus accident left him with a permanent disability. He was going to school when the bus took a wrong turn and ran over Thangavelu's right leg, damaging it below knee, according to a report in The Hindu.
But that was not a deterrent for Thangavelu to pursue his dreams. In his first competition, he competed with able-bodied athletes and finished second. His rise has been steady since then.
In March, Thangavelu cleared a height of 1.78m at the IPC Grand Prix in Tunisia, to achieve the A-Qualification Standard of 1.60 at Paralympics.
Bronze medal winner Bhati was diagnosed with polio at a very young age as one of his legs got deformed. Despite the difficulty, Bhati went on to become a champion athlete.
The 21-year-old from Uttar Pradesh finished fifth at the 2014 Asian Para Games in Incheon, (Korea) and won a gold medal at the 2014 China Open Athletics Championship, the same year.
After Thangavelu and Bhati's performance, the Paralympic Committee of India expects more medal from the Indian contingent. Â
"We have very good chance in javelin throw in F-46 and F-47 categories. We expect a gold or silver or bronze. We will create new record at these Games," Gursharan Singh, vice-president of the Paralympic Committee of India, told NDTV.
"These Games will be our best ever performance. We know how we performed in the Olympics and now you will see how we perform in Paralympics. We all know the facilities given to Olympians and how many medals they got and we will see how our Paralympians perform."
Rs.2 crore reward
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa on Saturday announced a cash reward of Rs.2 crore for Mariyappan.
"I was delighted to learn that you have won a gold medal in the Paralympics currently being held in Rio de Janeiro. I understand that this is the first time an Indian has won a gold medal in the high jump event in the Paralympics. By leaping over a height of 1.89 metres, you have leapt into history and done both the nation and the state of Tamil Nadu proud," Jayalalithaa wrote in her letter.
"Your achievement, overcoming several obstacles and hurdles, will inspire more and more children and youth to overcome adversities and to participate and strive for greater achievements. Kindly accept my heartiest congratulations on behalf of the people of Tamil Nadu on your splendid achievement."
The Tamil Nadu chief minister further said that she was very happy to inform that the state government has decided to award a cash prize of Rs.2 crore on par with Olympic gold medal winners from Tamil Nadu.
"I congratulate you and all those who have contributed to your success. May you stand forth as a beacon of hope for all those striving to achieve success in their chosen fields overcoming all odds," she said.