Girisha competes in the high jump final at the London Paralympic Games. (Reuters)
London, Sept. 4: India won’t be going back from the Paralympics in London empty-handed, as happened four years ago in Beijing. Girisha Hosanagara Nagarajegowda, who won silver in the men’s high jump last night in front of a packed stadium, has seen to that.
After the emotional awards ceremony today, he sat down with The Telegraph and said: “I still cannot believe it.”
He could have slagged off the government for doing little for Indian Paralympic athletes or disparaged Indian society for treating disability almost like a disease.
But Girisha, a 24-year-old from Karnataka, showed great dignity — and patriotism — in his moment of triumph.
Holding up his silver medal, he said: “This medal is for my country — I also present it to the disabled people of India.”
He drew attention to his birthday — January 26, 1988. “That’s an important day for India,” he smiled, as he referred to the Republic Day.
Winning medals for India does have its downside, though, as Girisha quickly discovered.
First off the starting blocks even before the gun had been fired was one Narendra Modi from Gujarat, whose link with Paralympic sport was not immediately apparent.
Girisha appeared not to understand why an Indian TV girl asked which message had meant most to him. “They have come from Amitabh Bachchan, Narendra Modi, the Indian sports minister (Ajay Maken) and so many others,” he responded.
Girisha, who was born with his deformed left foot pointing inwards, said he had tried jumping with spikes. “But I was not comfortable.”
So he wore what looked like a slipper on his left foot —“it was secure” — while his right foot was bare — probably a first at the Paralympics. “I was born like this,” Girisha said.
He couldn’t see what was the big deal — even though his left foot pointed inwards and was at right angles to his right foot. “I have never thought of myself as disabled — more like ‘differently abled’.”
“I enjoyed jumping in front of nearly 1 lakh people — I have never seen crowds like this (at similar events) in India. Here (in England) they treated disabled people the same as everyone else.”
Getting to the technicalities of what happened, he said he cleared 1.74 metres in the F42 final, finishing behind Fiji’s Iliesa Delana, who also jumped 1.74 metres, as did the bronze medallist, Lukasz Mamczarc of Poland.
He explained that at an earlier Games in 2010, he had cleared 1.80 metres which would have won him gold last night. But at the preliminary height of 1.71 metres, he stumbled briefly — he took two attempts while the Fijian needed just one.
“I just touched it (the bar) a little,” said Girisha, wincing at the thought of what might have been.
The bronze medallist needed two attempts to clear 1.74 metres. “High jumpers are allowed three attempts at each height,” he pointed out.
Girisha Hosanagara Nagarajegowda said his second name referred to his village in Karnataka, while the last was his father’s name. “I come from a poor family,” said Girisha, who will now receive a cash prize from the government. “My family are farmers.”
He acknowledged he had received official support in Karnataka where he had been able to train for five hours a day for the last six months in a stadium in Bangalore.
The next stop will be the world championships in Paris followed by the Asian Games in South Korea.
Girisha has already upped his bar. “I shall try to win gold in Rio in four years’ time,” he said.