Sundar Singh Gurjar reached London’s Olympic Stadium a good three hours before his event began on Friday evening. He was there before any of his competitors. But the 21-year-old did not want to leave anything to chance. More specifically, he was keen to avoid a repeat of last year’s incident that ended in humiliation. At the Rio Paralympics, Gurjar reached the venue late and missed the start of F-46 javelin throw event by one minute. His maiden Paralympic appearance ended in tears even though teammate Devendra Jhajharia won the gold medal. On Friday, the Rajasthan athlete was determined to make amends. And he did. Gurjar laid his demons to rest by winning the gold medal at the World Para Athletics Championships on Friday with a throw of 60.36m. The F-46 category is reserved for athletes who have single arm amputated.
Such was the mental trauma following the Rio debacle that Gurjar quit competing for three months. He even developed suicidal tendancies. His coach Mahaveer Singh Saini intervened and cajoled him into returning to the training ground but the incident remained fresh in his mind. “I reached the stadium on Friday three hours before time and was thinking about what happened in Rio last year. I left the sport for three months and would often think about suicide,” Gurjar told The Indian Express. “But I was keen to bury the memory. This (London) stadium hosted the Olympic Games in 2012 so today’s gold medal is like winning the gold medal in Olympics for me.”
Gurjar was the favourite to win the gold medal at the Rio Paralympics. Six months before the event, he had recorded the world’s leading score of 68.42m at the National Para Athletics Championships. The next best effort in his category was Jhajharia’s, who had recorded 63.97m in Rio. However, lapse on the part of the team officials meant he could not start in his event at the Paralympics. The disappointment was such that Gurjar locked himself kept away from the sport and would stay in his room in Jaipur alone for hours. Sher Singh Khatana, Gurjar’s brother-in-law, said they took help from psychologists and IPS officer Ram Singh Shekhawat to bring him out of that phase. “He did not even come home after what happened in Rio. He would not eat for days, isolating himself completely. Coach Saini would not even go to his own home fearing for the worst,” Khatana said.
It was after much insistence that Gurjar resumed training but this time it was not in javelin throw. Before he lost his left arm in an accident at a construction site in November 2015, Gurjar competed in general category in various events, including shot put. He had shown spark even in javelin throw, by winning the bronze medal at the Youth Athletics Championships in 2013, behind current junior world champion Neeraj Chopra, who had won silver. He was flipping through some of his old pictures, when he stumbled upon one in which he had a junior national athletics championship gold medal (won in 2010) hanging around his neck. So Gurjar started training for shot put under Saini and won three gold medals at the Fazza IPC Athletics Grand Prix in Dubai, where he threw 60.33m in javelin throw, 13.36m in T-44-46 shot put and 44.56m in F-46 discus throw events.
He also joined English speaking classes simultaneously at his friend Himmat Singh Gurjar’s institute in Jaipur. One of the reasons he had given for not being able to compete in Rio was his inability to understand his name pronounced with an accent in English. “After Rio, I could not practice javelin throw. My friends showed me videos of Hungarian shooter Karoly Takacs, who won the gold medal in 25m rapid fire pistol events in 1948 and 1952 Olympics despite an injured right hand,” Gurjar said. “And in Rio, I missed my start as I could not understand the repeated calls of my registration. So I was eager to improve my English. I will continue that even when I return from London. Aakhir Tokyo main medal jeet ke English main interview dena hai.”
On September 13 last year, Gurjar’s family, who own an acre of land in their village near Jaipur, had planned huge celebrations anticipating a medal. But it never took place. Now, the only stadium in the village, which normally hosts army recruitment rallies, is being decked up to welcome Gurjar. A grand homecoming is in store. “Last year, we had got pamphlets worth Rs 50,000 made in Jaipur as we were sure of his win. A band was also hired. But we couldn’t celebrate,” Khatana said. “He has not returned home since three years and has spent his time in Jaipur. Last night, more than 1,000 villagers had gathered to see his event. When he returns, the celebrations will be bigger than what was planned after Rio Paralympics.”