T. Mariyappan has put Periyavadagampatti, a village 50 kilometres away from Salem, on India’s sporting map by winning the high jump gold at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday.
T. Mariyappan has put Periyavadagampatti, a village 50 kilometres away from Salem, on India’s sporting map by winning the high jump gold at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday. The 20-year-old champion, whose right leg was irrevocably damaged following an accident 15 years ago, cleared 1.89 metres as if it was child’s play. You must watch the video of his effort to realise how difficult it was because he was hopping on his left leg alone until the take-off. He was only seven centimetres short of the world record. Mariyappan was also a man for the big occasion as he delivered when it mattered most.
R. Rajendran, physical education teacher of Government Higher Secondary School, Periyavadagampatti, first spotted Mariyappan when the athlete was in sixth standard. “Mariyappan hesitantly asked me whether he could make an attempt after the high jump training session I had been conducting for other students. I straightaway knew the boy was special when I saw him do better than able-bodied athletes of same age. Mariyappan was unstoppable from that point as he kept winning medals in open category in zonal, district and division meets. He was the best in Salem district all along his school life,” he said.
Mariyappan’s mentor said his charge could never be accused of lacking confidence. “I would say confidence is his greatest strength. He would never be fazed by any competition. In school meets, he would always bypass preliminary rounds and come up trump with his effort in the business end. Even though he never had the luxury of a high jump landing mat in our village, he kept raising the bar in practice and competition,” he added.
Rajendran revealed that Mariyappan hadn’t bothered too much about the Paralympics until he reached Plus One. “Actually there was no need for him as he was doing extremely well in open competitions. Mariyappan started dreaming about representing India at the Paralympics only after winning gold at national level with an effort of 1.70m when he was in Plus One,” he said.
According to the physical education teacher, Mariyappan missed the 2012 London Paralympics as he didn’t have a passport. “His best in 2012 was 1.75m and he should have gone to London. Unfortunately he couldn’t. In London, the gold medallist in his category cleared only 1.74m,” Rajendran said.
The champion athlete has faced hardships throughout his life. “If grinding poverty wasn’t enough, Mariyappan’s father deserted his family a few years ago, leaving unenviable burden on his wife’s shoulders. Mariyappan’s mother, Saroja, has been working in a brick kiln and selling vegetables to feed her three sons and a daughter,” Rajendran said.
Despite qualifying for the 2016 Paralympics six months in advance, Mariyappan’s Rio dream almost came to nought as a result of the National Paralympic Committee of India’s suspension from the international body.