Para-athlete Devendra Jhajharia has created history by becoming the first differently-abled Indian to win a gold at the IPC Athletics World Championships as he bagged the yellow metal in javelin throw in the sixth edition of the event in Lyon, France.
Jhajharia, also a world record holder in the event which he created while winning gold in the 2004 Athens Olympics, hurled the javelin to 57.04m in F-46 category, meant for one-armed athletes, at the Rhone Stadium last night.
The 32-year-old Rajasthan athlete, whose world record stands at 62.15m, led the field of 11 from the very beginning as he opened with a throw of 54.71m. He came up with his best of 57.04m in his sixth and last throw.
The Indian, a class IV employee with the Railways, got some stiff competition from Iranian Mirshekari Abdolrasoul, who also bettered his personal mark of 51.34m pegging the spear at 52.62m for the silver. Egyptian Ismail Mahmoud got the bronze with a throw of 50.22m.
With Jhajharia's effort, India opened their medal account in the Championships organised by International Paralympics Committee and now stands at 19th in the medal tally.
India is represented by a 10-member contingent in the July 19-28 Championships.
All 10 athletes have qualified with 'A' standard.
The 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships, featuring over 1,000 athletes from nearly 100 countries, is the biggest gathering of international differently-abled athletes since the 2012 London Olympics.
IPC President Sir Phil Cravon and CEO Xavier Gonzalez congratulated Jhajharia on his achievement.
Paralympics Committee of India President Sultan Ahmed said Jhajharia will be felicitated when he returns home.
An elated Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) president Sultan Ahmed announced a cash award of Rs.5 lakh for Jhajharia.
"I think Devendra's gold medal will boost the paralympic athletes in the country. We have a huge wealth of talent in the country and we have to support them. We are thankful to the sports ministry and the Sports Association of India (SAI) for all support they gave to the athletes for training purpose," Ahmed, an MP from Trinamool Congress, said.
Son of Ram Singh, a farmer, Jhajharia was passionate about sports from his school days.
“Sport is where an entire life can be compressed into a few hours, where the emotions of a lifetime can be felt on an acre or two of ground, where a person can suffer and die and rise again on six miles of trails through a park,” said Jhajharia, who hails from Rajasthan's Churu district, which is the gateway to Thar desert.
It was in 1997 that Jhajharia was spotted by his coach Ripudaman Singh Aulak, a Dronacharya Awardee in javelin, and he shifted to the nearby town of Kasab for better training facilities. From there he never looked back and was soon training at National Institute of Sports (NIS) Patiala.
"Sport is a theatre where sinner can turn saint and a common man can become an uncommon hero, where the past and the future mix with the present," said Jhajharia.
Jhajharia thanks Indian Railways who allowed him to practise throughout the year, but is frustrated with the apathy of the corporate sector.
"I asked for sponsorship 3-4 times but they weren't responsive. So I left pursuing them. I think that the private sector has more money and resources to invest in sports unlike the state and central governments but unfortunately the former hardly reciprocates when we approach them," he said.
Jhajharia feels that para-athletes don't get their due in India.
"I am the sole gold medallist in javelin. But the status of this game has not improved yet. To me both the Olympics and the Paralympics share a similar status. But in case of normal Olympics medallist the pension is of Rs.10,000 while the paralympic winners get just Rs.5,000. Moreover, there are 101 Olympic winner who are supposed to get pension from the government but around 50 of them don't get it at all," he said.