Having no knowledge about para-athletics, high jumper Praveen Kumar, who won the silver medal in Tokyo on Friday, depended on Google for basic information about the sport.
“I would watch videos of high jump on Google and try and learn from it. There was nobody to teach me. Later, during a district-level meeting, I was told about coach Dr. Satyapal and met him and he agreed to train me,” said Praveen Kumar, who won silver in Men’s High Jump T44 at the Paralympic Games on Friday.
Asked about his journey thus far, Kumar talked about how he tried his hand at volleyball but fell in love with high jump. Kumar said that initially he did not believe he would reach thus far and be successful in para-athletics.
“I was a volleyball player but got to know about para-athletics and high jump in 2016. I got my initial knowledge by watching videos on Google. It was during a district-level athletics championship that I was told about coach Dr. Satyapal. I went and met him in 2018, he checked about my classification and then he agreed to train me,” said Kumar.
On Friday, Kumar was a bit low on confidence going for 1.97 metres in Tokyo. There was a slight drizzle in the Olympic Stadium and India’s best high jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu had missed the gold medal in the T63 final in similar conditions a few days back. Kumar had all the reasons to be nervous and low on confidence.
But once he cleared 1.97 and the bar was raised to 2.01m and he soared over it easily, Praveen says he was confident of his chances as he was in the top three and thus was sure to get at least a bronze medal. He went for his next attempts with a lot of confidence.
“When the bar was set at 1.97, I was a bit low on confidence as I had missed an attempt at that height and was worried whether I will be able to do it or not. I managed to clear it in the next attempt. But once the bar was raised to 2.01 and I cleared it without any issues, my confidence too rose as I was now in the top three and thus assured of a medal.
“I went for my next few jumps with a lot of confidence. I decided not to think of any other thing, no other competitors, no rain or slippery conditions, just concentrated on my jumps, I decided that I had to give my best, the rain, the conditions notwithstanding,” Kumar said during a media interaction facilitated by the Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) along with Eurosport, the Tokyo 2020 broadcast rights holders for India.
Kumar has a personal best of 2.05m which he better on Friday and also set an Asian record with a jump of 2.07 metres.
Kumar, who hails from Delhi, said there was a lot of pressure as he attempted to clear 2.10 metres that Great Britain’s Jonathan Broom-Edwards, the eventual gold medallist, had already cleared.
“There was a lot of pressure as I went for 2.10m on the first attempt, but not on second and third attempts as I was determined to clear it. I thought I had best efforts on those two turns but somehow I could not soar over the bar because my landing did not come off properly,” said Kumar, the 18-year-old from Kotla Mubarakpur village in Delhi whose one leg is short since birth and thus affects the bones that connect his hip to his left leg.
Asked what was his first reaction after winning the silver medal, Kumar said he had no words to describe how happy he is after claiming his first Paralympic Games medal.
Asked what message Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave him during his phone talk after winning the medal, Kumar said, “He gave me his blessings and said he was very happy that I have won a medal in the Paralympic Games.”
Asked about his school days when he started taking part in the high jump for the able-bodied, Kumar said, initially his classmates and teams were a bit sceptical about him participating in athletics but once he started doing well, they supported him.
“I used to spend most of my school time in sports and my classmates and teams were a bit sceptical, unsure whether I was getting somewhere or not. But when I won a silver medal in the World Junior Championship, they started supporting me,” said Kumar.