For a country that missed the gold at the just-concluded Rio Olympics, it was celebration time as two of its athletes — Thangavelu Mariyappan (21) of Tamil Nadu and Varun Singh Bhati of Noida — scripted history on Friday night winning the gold and bronze medals respectively in the men’s high jump T-42 event at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.
While Mariyappan jumped 1.89 metres, Bhati registered a personal best of 1.86 metres.
Celebrations at home
At Mariyappan’s hometown Periyavadagampatti, a village located 50 km from Salem in western Tamil Nadu, family members, friends and residents broke into celebrations even before the break of dawn. Their joy doubled on Saturday with Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announcing a reward of Rs. 2 crore to the first Indian to win a gold medal in the high jump event in Paralympics. All political party leaders, including DMK president M. Karunanidhi, congratulated the youth on his achievement.
Recalling his journey to fame, his family members said Mariyappan had met with an accident at the age of five when he was on the way to school. A bus had run over his right leg, crushing it below the knee, leaving him with a permanent disability. As a child, he was fond of volleyball.
However, on the suggestion of R. Rajendran, his physical education teacher at the Government Higher Secondary School at Periyavadagampatti, he switched over to athletics and to high jump. He went on to win school-level high jump competitions and never looked back.
In fact, he told his mother Saroja that he would return home with a medal from Rio. “We are elated. He has done our village and the country proud,” Ms. Saroja told The Hindu.
On Friday evening, Mariyappan had spoken to her on the phone and requested her to pray for his success. “I did offer prayers at the local temple in the evening and God has answered my prayers,” Ms. Saroja said, adding she had gone to bed as usual at night. Mariyappan’s brothers and a good number of local youths were glued to the television in the early hours. They jumped out of joy when he cleared 1.89 m to win the coveted gold. “My sons woke me up at 4 a.m. to inform me of this happy news. Later, Mariyappan also spoke to me sharing his joy,” Ms. Saroja said.
“My children did not allow me to go to the market for selling vegetables in the morning and forced me to stay put in the house to receive the greetings of the people,” she added.
According to H. Chandrasekar, president, Paralympic Volleyball Federation of India, Bengaluru, it was Sathyanarayanan, a renowned athletic coach, who first spotted the lad at the national para-athletics championships in 2013 and a couple of years later admitted him to his Para-Indian Athletic Academy at Bengaluru.
Salem Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu contract coach K. Elamparithi, who trained the youngster in his initial days into a champion material, said: “I always believed he had the ability to win the gold for his country. And, he has done that.”
Locals, who set off fire crackers and distributed sweets, converged at Mariyappan’s modest house to greet his mother, elder sister Sudha and younger brothers T. Kumar and T. Gopi.
Meanwhile, the students of AVS College of Arts and Science at Ramalingapuram near the city, where Mariyappan did his BBA, fired crackers and distributed sweets in the morning and again in the evening. Led by K. Kailasam, chairman of the college and I. Carmel Mercy Priya, principal, the students displayed a huge banner of beaming Mariyappan with the national flag on the campus and garlanded the same.
The 21-year-old Paralympian completed his BBA in the last academic year. He could not sit for the final semester examinations because of his preparations for the Paralympics. “After his return, we will help him write the examinations and admit him in the MBA course,” said Ms. Priya.
(With agency and Bureau inputs)
In an interview with The Hindu in March, 2016, Thangavelu believed he had good shot at the Rio Paralympics and said, "Even a gold is possible." Today, he made it. >Read the story here.