Mariyappan Thangavelu became only the third Indian ever to clinch a Paralympic gold, while Varun Bhati secured a bronze as the duo scripted history for the country in the men’s T42 high jump event of the ongoing Rio Games.
Thangavelu, 21, who was just five years old when his right leg was crushed by a speeding bus while he was on his way to school, joined Murlikant Petkar (1972, swimming) and Devendra Jhajharia (2004, javelin throw) in the Indian Paralympics gold club.
He won top spot with his best jump of 1.89m, leaving world champion Sam Grewe of the US, who registered 1.86m, to settle for silver on Friday night (September 9).
Bhati’s best effort was also 1.86m but he had to settle for the bronze medal on countback, making it the first instance of two Indians finishing on the podium in the same event of a Paralympic Games.
The T42 classification is for athletes with lower limb deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power or impaired range of movement.
In the same event, there was disappointment for another Indian athlete Sharad Kumar, who failed to finish on the podium.
Kumar had led the event at one stage after clearing 1.55m and 1.60m, but his best jump was only 1.77m which placed him in sixth overall.
The event witnessed strong competition as six out of the 12 para athletes cleared the 1.74m mark in their first eight attempts.
In his 10th attempt, Thangavelu jumped 1.77m successfully, along with three others – Poland’s Lukasz Mamczarz, China’s Zhiqiang Zhing and countryman Kumar.
In the later stages with the contest being reduced to only three competitors, Bhati set the tone with a jump of 1.83m mark along with Thagavelu.
However, just when it looked like India would end with a gold and a silver, the American cleared 1.86m to grab the top spot but the Indians also equalled the height to make it even.
Eventually, in a nail-biting finale, Thangavelu grabbed the gold with a jump of 1.89m.
In other field events, Sandeep and Narender Ranbir finished fourth and sixth, respectively, in F42 Javelin competition with personal best throws of 54.30m and 53.79m.