India at the Paralympics: A brief history

India bagged four medals at the 2016 Rio Paralympic games which equalled their richest haul from the event, set in 1984.
By Samrat Chakraborty

Many Paralympians have brought laurels for India in the Paralympics - the world’s greatest sporting platform for the differently-abled athletes.

A few para-athletes have gone further, setting world records while winning Paralympic medals. The journey for India at the Paralympics began at the 1968 Games. India did not participate in the 1976 and 1980 editions but apart from that they have been a part of every Paralympics since 1968.

India bagged four medals at the Rio 2016 Paralympic games which equalled their richest haul from the event, set in 1984.

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Paralympics: Origins

Organized under the aegis of the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation, the first-ever Paralympics Games was held in 1960 at Rome, following on from the Stoke Mandeville Games of 1948 and 1952 which were open only to war veterans.

The first-ever Paralympics in Rome saw a participation of 209 athletes from 18 countries. But India did not participate in the 1960 and 1964 events.

The term Paralympics, however, was approved by the International Olympics Committee (IOC) in 1988 in Seoul which was also when the event was held in the same city as the Olympics for the first time in 24 years.

India's debut at Paralympics

India made their maiden appearance at the Paralympics in 1968 in Tel Aviv, Israel. A total of 10 athletes were sent to the Games as a part of the Indian delegation which included eight men and two women. India, however, returned home without any medal from the Games but it was the first real experience for India’s para-athletes at the big stage.

Four years later at the 1972 Heidelberg Games in Germany, India bagged their first medal at the Paralympics. Para-swimmer Murlikant Petkar set a world record time of 37.331 seconds to bag a gold medal in 50m freestyle swimming. It was, however, the only medal earned by India at the Games which helped them finish at the 24th spot in the overall medal tally from the 42 participating nations.

After India announced themselves at the Paralympics by bagging their first gold in 1972, the country did not participate at the 1976 and 1980 Games, with their next appearance coming in the 1984 Games.

पैरालंपिक में व्हीलचेयर दौड़ में हिस्सा लेते खिलाड़ी

Rich medal-haul in 1984 Paralympics

The 1984 Summer Paralympics was held in two separate locations. Stoke Mandeville, UK, held competitions for wheelchair athletes with spinal cord injuries while the Mitchel Athletic Complex and Hofstra University in Long Island, New York was the venue set-up for wheelchair and ambulatory athletes with cerebral palsy, amputees, and les autres (others).

The India delegation clinched four medals - their highest - from the competition to finish at the joint-37th position with South Korea. 

Incidentally, it was individual brilliance from Joginder Singh Bedi that helped the country achieve the feat. Bedi bagged a silver at the men's shot put and then clinched a pair of bronze medals in the Discus and Javelin throws. Bhimrao Kesarkar added the fourth medal for India with a silver in the Javelin. 

Medal drought from 1988 to 2000

It was contrasting fortunes for India at the Paralympics after registering their highest-medal haul in 1984. The Indian contingents struggled to find a podium spot from 1988 to 2000. However, the drought was brought to an end at the 2004 Games in Athens, where India clinched two medals - a gold and a silver - to finish at the 53 spot. 

 In 2004, Devendra Jhajharia won gold in Javelin throw while Rajinder Singh won bronze for powerlifting in the 56-kg category. 

 Four years later in Beijing, however, India drew a blank. 

 India’s improved show in 2012 and 2016 Paralympics

 In 2012, India won a silver in London, thanks to HN Girisha who won a silver in the men's high jump F42 category. However, that was the only medal India won in that edition. 

 But India put on a strong show at the 2016 Rio Games to match their highest medal haul of four. Incidentally, all the four medals came from athletics - a strong suit for the Indian Paralympians. 

Mariyappan Thangavelu and Devendra Jhajharia bagged a gold medal each from high jump F42 and Javelin F46 respectively while Deepa Malik brought home a silver from shot put. Varun Singh Bhati won a bronze in the high jump F42 category.

Tokyo Paralympics

India will be participating in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics as well, with more than 20 places already secured across 14 events in Archery, Athletics and Shooting. Notably, Harvinder Singh and Vivek Chikara became the first male archers from the country to qualify for the Paralympic Games. Mariyappan Thangavelu, who won a gold in 2016, will also be a part of the contingent headed for Tokyo.