Nearly everybody has heard about Phelps’ 22 medals but hardly anyone has heard about his fellow countrywoman and swimmer Trischa Zorn and her 55 medals. While Michael Phelps won 18 gold medals, Zorn won 41 gold. Zorn has the largest haul of medals ever in the Paralympics, the other Olympics. Coming to the present year, fast forward: Pictorius Semi-final run at the London Olympics this year symbolizes the desire of every paraplegic to be treated at par with others.
Thirty-six years before Beijing, 2008 and Abhinav Bindra’s gold, Cfn. Petkar won an individual gold medal at the 1972 Heidelberg Paralympic games, in Germany. He created a World record in the 50m freestyle swimming event, by clocking 37.33 seconds. In the same games he participated in Men’s javelin throw, precision javelin throw and Slalom and he was a finalist in all three events. He was disabled during the 1965 War against Pakistan in which he sustained several severe bullet injuries. An unsung hero, he was an army jawan in the EME Corps, Secunderabad.
India sent it’s first contingent to the Summer Paralympics during the 1968 games. Petkar had participated in the men’s table tennis in those games and cleared the first round. Petkar was a private-jawan of the craftsman rank in the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME) in the Indian Army, Originally a boxer of repute at EME, after he was crippled in the 1965 war he switched over to swimming and other sports. Known to be an indomitable sportsman among the Indian army men, he won 4 medals in international events since 1969. He was later employed by TELCO in Pune. Some sources, even reputed newspapers, erroneously claim that Petkar was a woman.
In the 1984 Paralympic games, Joginder Singh Bedi won three individual medals, silver in the men’s shot put and two bronzes in the Discus and javelin throws. The Javelin throw event in the same game saw another Indian medal winner - a silver obtained by Bhimrao Kesarkar. No other Indian has won more than one medal in the same Olympics, or Paralympics. In 2000 Joginder Singh Bedi won the Arjunee Award for Lifetime Achievement in the physically handicapped category and so did two others, Vashishta and Munishwar.
Again four years before India’s mainstream gold in 2008, India won another individual Paralympic gold medal, this time taken by Devendra Jharjharia. Devendra was a 23-year-old one-handed athlete who was pursuing a Masters in Political Science after completing his Bachelors in Arts. In the 2004 Paralympic Games at Athens, India won two individual medals, one by Devendra in Men’s Javelin throw and the other by Rajinder Singh Ravelu in men’s powerlifting in the 56kg category. Devendra created a World record scoring 1117 points. Devendra was given the Arjuna Award in 2004; Rajinder received it in 2005 and Jagseer Singh another challenged person won it in 2010.
Despite all these glories these sportsmen still have to vie with the 'normal' sportspersons for visibility and recognition. Their struggles and successes lay beyond the limelight, while the media hype goes for other sporting events. This lesser-known Olympics begin on 29th August and goes on until 9th September.
(The author has contributed to the same topic on Wikipedia (with references mentioned) as well :
* Murlikant Petkar,
* India at the Paralympics)