Who is Mariyappan Thangavelu? The high jumper who won a gold and a silver in successive Paralympics
Mariyappan Thangavelu finished with a silver medal in the men’s high jump T63 event in Tokyo 2020 Paralympics on Tuesday. He was locked in an intense battle with American Sam Grewe who bagged the gold medal after clearing the bar set at 1.88m in his third attempt.
However, he could have ended with successive gold in the Paralympics if the rain had not made the conditions difficult.
“I’m happy winning the silver, but disappointed at the same time because the rains disturbed the jumps so much,” said Thangavelu, who became only the third Indian after Joginder Singh Bedi and Devendra Jhajharia to win multiple medals at the Paralympics.
He was also announced as India's flag-bearer in the opening ceremony but had to be replaced after being exposed to a Covid-19 carrier.
“It was disappointing to miss out on being the flag bearer, but I wanted to make India proud and win gold. I trained and stayed separately and was quarantined.”
How did Mariyappan Thangavelu take to athletics?
Mariyappan hails from Periyavadagampatti, a village located 50 km from Salem in western Tamil Nadu. He met with an accident at the age of five while he was going to school as a bus ran over his right leg, and below the knee, it had to be amputated. After a 17-year leagl battle the family received a financial compensation out of which half was spent on legal expenses. In fact, they had to even take a loan for medical expenses.
He was brought up by his single mother Saroja who used to be a daily wage labourer and later took to selling vegetables after she started suffering from chest pain. He used to like volleyball. But when his physical education teacher R Rajendran suggested him to switch to high jump he did not think twice. He excelled at the sport soon and started winning competitions.
He was then trained by Salem Sports Development Authority coach K. Elamparithi. Later he shifted to Bengaluru where he was trained by Sathya Narayana and was also offered a stipend.
Mariyappan believes that his right deformed big toe helps him to get the leap. “This is what gives me leverage when I jump,” he says. “It is my God.”
He is also a BBA degree holder from the AVS College of Arts and Science at Ramalingapuram.
Winning gold in Rio
In March 2016, he qualified for the Rio Olympics after jumping 1.78m in the men's high jump T-42 event at the IPC Grand Prix in Tunisia. In Rio, he was fighting against the same opponent in USA's Grewe. Mariyappan succeeded in clearing the 1.89m hurdle in his second attempt while his opponent could manage only 1.86m which sealed gold for him. He used the prize money to buy a paddy field for his mother and built a new house for his family.
After winning silver in Tokyo, the athlete is already thinking of Paris where he wants to change the colour of the metal.
"Next Paralympics, I am confident I will win the gold and make a new record.”
What are Mariyappan Thangavelu's achievements?
1. Rio 2016 Paralympics: Gold Medal (2016)
2. Padma Shri (2017)
3. Arjuna Award (2017)
4. Asian Para Games Bronze (2018)
5. World Championships Bronze Medal (2019)
6. Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna (2020).
7. Tokyo Paralympics Silver Medal (2021)