After becoming the first Paralympian to be nominated for the country's highest sporting honour — Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna — two-time Paralympics gold medallist Devendra Jhajharia recently said he should have bagged the award more than a decade back when he clinched the gold with a world record at the Athens Games in 2004.
The 36-year-old, who is the first Indian to win two Paralympics gold medals, was the first choice of the awards selection committee headed by Justice C.K. Thakkar. Former national hockey team skipper Sardar Singh was the other nominee for the prestigious award. After being nominated, Jhajharia told IANS,
Firstly I would like to thank everyone who has supported me in my journey. It feels great to be nominated for such an honor, but this should have come 12 years back. I would have been happier and more motivated if I was nominated for this award 12 years ago when I won my first Paralympic gold with a world record performance. But as it's said it is never too late.
In 2004, Jhajharia created a new world record with a throw of 62.15 metres in the men's javelin F46 category to become India's first gold medallist at the Paralympics. But due to the F46 classification not being included in the subsequent 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Paralympics, Jhajharia didn't get the opportunity to break his own record earlier.
The F46 category was re-introduced at the Rio Games last year where Jhajharia broke his own world record with a throw of 63.7 metres to clinch another gold medal. Thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi for inspiring the country's Paralympians by introducing the Target for Podium (TOP) scheme, Jhajharia credited it for his second gold after a gap of 12 years. Jhajharia, who hails from Rajasthan, said,
Post 2014-15, para sports is developing gradually in the country today. I want to thank the Prime Minister for inspiring the differently abled athletes in realising their dreams at the international stage. The credit for my second Paralympic gold goes to the TOP scheme, which has helped all the Paralympians get funds for better training, foreign coaches and most importantly fulfilling their dreams of winning a medal for the country.
Asked what took it so long for him to get nominated for the top award, Jhajharia candidly said that as a sportsperson he was focussed on working hard and winning medals for the country. "As an athlete, my job is to work hard and fetch medals for the country. I applied for the award in 2004 too, but some things are not in my hand," he said.
Jhajharia also said such awards bring with them greater responsibilities: "It's not only a matter of pride for me and my family but such prestigious awards also bring in more responsibilities. It will help me in inspiring the younger generation take up sports as a career."
He also hopes that his nomination will open the doors for many more Paralympians getting the top award.
With inputs from IANS