New Delhi: in the Paralympics in javelin throw Gold medalist Sumit Antil was on Saturday presented the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award, India’s highest sporting honour, from President Ram Nath Kovind.
In an exclusive conversation with News24, Antil shares memories of his journey from a small village in Haryana to the highest stage of the World Games. Let us know about Sumit Antil’s life and goals so far in this exclusive interview.
How do you feel when you get the Khel Ratna at the age of 23?
I am glad that the Indian government has given me India’s highest sporting honor has been awarded. I feel that all my struggles have paid off. I am happy to receive this award.
To whom do you give credit for your success?
My family has struggled the most in my journey. I am very grateful to the family and my coaches who coached me to reach this level. I am thankful to all those who prayed for me while throwing the javelin.
from the village to receive the highest honor of the sport What about your journey to Rashtrapati Bhavan?
I belong to Sonipat and wrestling as a sport is more popular in that area. I also started my career with wrestling, but due to my accident in 2015, I had to leave the sport. After that, I joined Ramjas College for graduation, in the final year, a para-athlete from my village introduced me to the sport. He inspired me, told me that my physique was good and it would be easy for me to make a career in this field. I was interested in staying fit and having a strong body from a very young age had to focus on my technique. He showed me the way. Then I met my coaches, who polished me to get here.
What was the biggest challenge in your journey?
bear the pain The pain at the time of the accident was for a limited duration, but when I started playing sports, the pain in the prosthetic limb was unbearable. I had to bear this for a long time. The intensity of the pain was very high, but I endured it. I still have pain sometimes, but now it’s easier to handle. This pain has given me a lot.
what was your inspiration?
After the National Championships in March until the Paralympics in August, it might have been a day or two when I didn’t feel the pain, but I kept telling myself there were only six months left, now 5, now 4… and so on. I am also used to the pain. Now I can feel pain, but it doesn’t affect my performance. I feel like I have reached a place where I can tolerate the pain, and my body has adapted to it.
What was your family’s reaction?
Only prosthetic sockets cost about a million, so when I told my family that I wanted to play sports, they said, ‘Do whatever makes you happy. One lakh is a huge amount for a middle class family. I went to Finland for training at my own expense. I believe my family has fought more, and they have kept their faith in me. I believe that it is the result of this belief that I have also got Paralympic Gold and Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award.
What are your plans now for the Paris Paralympics?
I want to increase the mark of the highest throw as far as possible. When I entered the sport, the world record was around 59m, and now, I have moved it to 68m. Now, my target is to reach 80 metres.
You only set 3 world records in the final of the Paralympics and broke them yourself
There was a lot of pressure. I have played World Championship and Asian Games, but the pressure was tremendous here. People had high expectations from me, and I knew I had to live up to their expectations. When I went to the field that day, I told myself that this is the day when everything ends. All my pain, all my practice has to be fruitful now. I wasn’t looking to see if my throw was breaking world records, I was just giving my best behind every throw.
Another great athlete with you Neeraj Chopra has won gold in javelin throw, where and how do you see the comparison between the two?
I really don’t compare myself with anyone, let alone a great athlete like Neeraj bhai. I don’t even compare myself with my fellow athletes, because their life journey is very different than mine. Everyone has their own story and journey. There is a possibility that if they were in my place, they might not have won the gold, and I wouldn’t have achieved what they would have achieved if I were in their place, so I wouldn’t compare. Rather I believe that if you are better than yesterday then you are moving in the right direction.
Do you see any difference in the way the government or the world treats Paralympians compared to Olympians?
There are differences, but I think there has been a lot of improvement as well. It takes time to change everything. The way PM Modi has extended support to para-athletes at par with Olympians, it has boosted my morale a lot. I recognize that our public recognition is very low, but I believe it will improve with time and achievements.
If you could change one thing in the Indian sports system, what would it be?
I really don’t feel like there is anything to change like this. If you compare the Paralympic performances of the last time, you will see that there has been a lot of improvement. Yes, at the grassroots level we can say that grassroots athletes are deprived of opportunities. If given a chance to compete with accomplished athletes, they will learn a lot from them. India has a benchmark system. In higher level games, the spear has to be thrown to that predetermined limit. For example, in javelin throw, the benchmark is 75, which is an obstacle for new athletes. If this is removed, many budding athletes like Shivpal or Vipin Kasana will be able to compete with Neeraj and thus, it will improve their performance.
How has your life changed after winning Gold?
There have been many positive changes since winning Gold. People recognize me, especially my car. There are only two such cars in the public domain: one with me, and the other with Neeraj Chopra – Mahindra XUV700 Golden Edition. There are golden rings on it, which give a different feel. Whenever I go somewhere, and people see this car, they know either I will be there or Neeraj bhai. So I have got a lot of recognition and I will try to inspire it. I don’t want to be arrogant in any way. I want to keep working on my game without letting my success grow negatively.
What other sports do you like apart from yourself?
I like to play volleyball, and I also do a little wrestling practice with my friends. I practice wrestling upper-body moves in my village.
do you watch movies
No, not at all. I don’t have time to watch anything on TV.
What about your fans, especially the women? You must have had a huge fan following since Gold?
Fan following is a different thing, but now I am engaged.
Did you choose your partner?
No…my parents chose it for me.
What message do you want to give to the youth of the country?
I would like to say that one should set a big goal in his life, something which may seem impossible. Initially people may laugh at you for seeing that big goal, but if you have strong will and hard work, then there is nothing in this world that can stop you from achieving it.
first published:Nov. 13, 2021, 7:39 p.m.