Girisha's silver proves Indian athletes are world class: Mentor Sahana Kumari

As India’s para-athlete Girisha Hosanagara Nagarajegowda made the country proud yesterday by winning a silver in the high jump event at the ongoing Paralympic Games in London, his mentor Sahana Kumari stood vindicated back home in Karnataka. 

“Money has been a huge problem for us athletes since the government as well as private firms do not invest enough in the sport. Even I had a huge financial crunch before the Games, but now Girisha’s medal at the Paralympic Games has proved that we athletes have the potential to deliver at the highest stage, provided we have the financial backing.

Silver lining: India’s Girisha Hosanagara Nagarajegowda during the men’s high jump event at the Paralympic Games in London yesterday. Pics/AFP, Getty images

I hope things will improve monetarily for the country’s athletes now,” Sahana told MiD DAY from Bangalore yesterday.

Kumari, who represented India at the London Olympics in high jump, endured a financial struggle to ensure her Russian coach Evgeny Nikitin accompanied her to the Games. A Mumbai-based NGO used the social media platform to help Sahana raise funds even as the Karnataka government chipped in later with financial aid.

Girisha has had his share of monetary struggles too, as Sahana explained: “Girisha was employed by a bank but they would not grant him time off and leave for training and competitions. This made him unhappy and he finally quit his job to get down to serious training before the Games. He would always tell me that money is a huge issue for him and at times, he even regretted leaving his job. But athletics is his passion, so I encouraged him to keep going at least till the Paralympics. I’m glad I did, because with the government and the Sports Authority of India promising jobs to deserving athletes, I’m sure Girisha will now be happily employed.”

Height of success
Twenty-four-year-old Girisha, who also hails from Karnataka, has an impairment in his left leg but scaled a height of 1.74m nevertheless in the men’s high jump F42 final for silver in front of an 80,000-capacity crowd in London yesterday. Girisha won silver behind Iliesa Delana of Fiji (1.74m), with the bronze going to Lukasz Mamczarz of Poland (1.74m). As all three finished with at same height, the medals were awarded on the basis of least number of jumps taken.

Sahana admitted she was surprised with the height achieved by Girisha. “During training in Bangalore, he initially jumped around 1.6m. Gradually, he came close to 1.7m and later touched 1.72m. But 1.74m is very good,” said Sahana (31) who cleared 1.80m at the London Olympics last month, failing to qualify for the finals.

Speaking of her
association with Girisha, Sahana said: “While we trained, Girisha would ensure he did his jumps before or after me, and would immediately approach me for any technical help. We had the same Russian coach, but Girisha somehow would not understand his instructions. He would then approach me later to ask what the coach said and I would interpret it to him.”

Sahana recalled a funny incident: “Just before leaving for the Games, he came to me with all his medicines (ointments, sprays, etc). And as I stood there perplexed, he politely asked me what he should carry with him and what he should avoid taking to London considering WADA’s (world anti-doping agency)
guidelines. This shows how innocent and sincere the guy is. I’m so glad he has won. In fact, I think his victory will help me get over my Olympic disappointment a little.”  

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