At 40, Devendra Jhajharia eying third Paralympic gold in javelin

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Devendra Jhajharia’s maiden gold came after he threw the javelin to a new world record of 62.15 m at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. In 2016, he bettered the record to 63.97m at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Photo: SportSavour.
Devendra Jhajharia’s maiden gold came after he threw the javelin to a new world record of 62.15 m at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. In 2016, he bettered the record to 63.97m at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Photo: SportSavour.

India is rejoicing Neeraj Chopra’s win at the Tokyo Olympics. However, unknown to probably most of us, Devendra Jhajharia is the proud winner of two gold in javelin at two Paralympics.

What is even more impressive about Jhajharia’s feat is that the athlete set a world record each time. He had won the first gold at the 2004 Athens Paralympics, and again at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

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Hailing from Churu in Rajasthan, Jhajharia is India’s second Paralympian to clinch gold after Murlikant Petkard at the 1972 Heidelberg Games in 50m freestyle swimming.

 

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Jhajharia’s maiden gold came after he threw the javelin for a new world record of 62.15 m. In 2016, he bettered the record to 63.97m. As he prepares for a third gold at the Tokyo Games, starting August 24, all eyes will be on Jhajharia, especially after a mammoth 65.71m throw while booking his place in the Paralympic contingent during a national trial
in Delhi on June 30.

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Jhajharia was bestowed the Arjuna Award in 2004 and is the first Paralympic athlete to
receive the Padma Shri Award in 2012. He also received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2017.

It’s been a long and arduous journey for this determined athlete, born on June 10, 1981, in a family of farmers. It was a simple life and even though he was not looking at sport as a profession, Jhajharia loved playing. He and his friends were playing ‘hide and seek’ when Jhajharia, 9, climbed a tree and accidentally grabbed a live wire. He fell unconscious, and even though doctors were able to save his life, they could not save the left hand, which had to be amputated almost till the elbow.

“It was like hell at that young age. Nobody was sure whether I would recover from such an accident. But I did and from that time I always felt I have nothing to lose. So I was determined to give my best in whatever I do,” said Jhajharia.

Even though he often faced ridicule, he used it as motivation. Soon enough, Jhajharia
could be seen at his school’s sports field observing a sport that required a single arm.

“I knew sport is a leveller. So I started practicing every day. Initially, I participated in the open category and then moved to parasport.”

Jhajharia’s determination has been a big part of his success. Despite financial troubles, his family has always supported him, especially his father. Last October, Jhajharia lost his father and is yet to come to terms with the loss.

Apart from his success at the Paralympics, he also has gold at the 2002 FESPIC Games (Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled) in South Korea and 2013 IPC (International Paralympic Committee) Athletics World Championships. He has two silver at the 2015 World Championships and 2014 Asian Games.

The most successful Paralympian from India, Jhajharia believes his biggest advantage is his mental strength which makes him stand tall in tough situations. “The most important quality of mine is my mental strength. That is the reason I am still going strong at 40.”

Even though javelin may be an individual event, there is a team responsible for the success he has achieved. He talks about his family, especially wife Manju.

Devendra Jhajharia during a training session. Photo: SportSavour
Devendra Jhajharia during a training session ahead of the Tokyo Paralympics. Photo: SportSavour

“My wife has taken the responsibility of my family. She was a national-level kabaddi player, but always supported me. After my 2004 Olympic gold, the F46 category in javelin
was not on the schedule for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. I tried to keep my morale up and kept training for the 2012 London Games. However, the same incident occurred. I felt it was time to sideline my dream of another Olympic medal, but my wife believed I could compete in 2016.”

Jhajharia speaks highly of the coaching team that stands behind him, especially coach Sunil Tawar and physio Lakshya Batra. Under their guidance, he has switched to a training routine focusing mainly on recovery instead of high-intensity workouts.

 

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“If I train in the morning, I make sure I have recovered fully before hitting the ground in the evening. At 40, my training routine can’t be the same I followed two decades back. At this stage, my priority is to stay fit and avoid injuries.”

With 2 Paralympic gold and a host of other accolades, Jhajharia almost hung up his boots in 2018 after a Grade Two muscle tear in the right shoulder. At 37, it was hard to move on, but he soon realised that the hunger for another Paralympic medal was not satiated and he resumed training.

Even though age may not on his side, Jhajharia hs proved he is still a gold medal-contender with the humongous 65.71m throw during the national trials. The throw remains an ‘unofficial world record’, since it was not part of the International Paralympic Committee’s calendar.

Text: SportSavour

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