Chennai: A bus accident 15 years ago left T. Mariyappan’s right leg a mangled mess below his knee. But it couldn’t crush his spirit as the young athlete from Periyavadagampatti, a village in Salem district, nailed the high jump gold at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday.
The 20-year-old college student, who has lifted the collective spirit of India, soared above 1.89 metres to finish ahead of USA’s Sam Grewe and Varun Singh Bhati of India, who both cleared 1.86m. Mariyappan has become the third Indian to win a gold medal in Paralympic history after Murlikant Petkar (swimming in 1972) and Devendra Jhajharia (javelin, 2004).
It took two weeks for India to open their account at last month’s Rio Olympics and a gold medal eluded them until the end. Mariyappan has given a rousing start to the country’s Paralympic campaign on the third day itself by going all the way in the T-42 category, which is for athletes affected by limb deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power and impaired range of movement. His right leg is heavily deformed and he walks with a limp as there is a seven-centimetre length difference between the two legs.
Mariyappan, who cleared 1.78m in a Grand Prix in March this year to qualify for the Paralympics, had been confident of winning gold in Rio. “A gold in Rio was very much possible,” he had said, pointing out that Grewe’s 1.81m was the leading mark in the run-up to the Paralympics.
Mariyappan reached the pinnacle after conquering heavy odds all along his life. The champion’s mother, Saroja, has been selling vegetables after her husband, Thangavel, deserted the family a few years ago. Saroja is the sole breadwinner of the family of five....