Fan-following is OK, but am engaged, going to get married soon: Sumit Antil

In an exclusive conversation with News24, Antil opened up about his journey from a small village in Haryana to the highest echelons of world sports. Let’s take a deep dive into his hopes and fears, aims and aspirations, love and life.

New Delhi: Ace javelin thrower and Paralympics Gold medalist Sumit Antil will today receive India’s highest sporting honor Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award from President Ramnath Kovind at a star-studded ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

In an exclusive conversation with News24,  Antil opened up about his journey from a small village in Haryana to the highest echelons of world sports. Let’s take a deep dive into his hopes and fears, aims and aspirations, love and life.  

How do you feel about getting Khel Ratna at the age of just 23?

This is the highest sporting honor in India, thus, I am delighted that the Government of India has honored me with it. I feel all my struggles have borne fruit. I am pleased to receive this award.

Who do you give credit for this success of yours?

My family has struggled the most in my journey. I am very grateful to them and to my coaches, who trained me to reach this level. I am thankful to all those who prayed for me while I was throwing the javelin.

What about your journey from your village to Rashtrapati Bhawan to revcieve the highest sporting honor?

I belong to Sonipat, and wrestling is more popular as a game in that area. I had also started my career with wrestling, but I had to quit the game because of my accident in 2015. After that, I enrolled in Ramjas College for graduation, in the final year, a para-athlete in my village introduced me to para-games. He motivated me, told me that I have a good physique and it will be easier for me to make a career in this field. I had an interest in being fit and having a strong body from a very young age all I had to do was to focus on my technique. He showed me the way. Then I met my coaches, who polished me to reach here.

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What has been the biggest challenge in your journey?

Bearing the pain, I would say. At the time of the accident, the pain was for a limited period, but when I started playing the game, the pain from the prosthetic limb was unbearable. I had to endure that for all this time—walking in the prosthetic in much easier than running and putting the weight on it while throwing the javelin. The intensity of pain was too high, but I endured it. I still feel pain at times, but now, it is easier to manage. This pain has given me lots of gain.

What was your motivation?

After the National Championship in March till the Paralympics in August, there might have been only a day or two when I did not have pain, but I kept saying to myself that now only six months are left, now 5, now 4… and so on. I also got habitual of the pain. Now I can feel the pain, but it doesn’t affect my performance. I think I have reached a place where I can bear the pain, and my body has adapted to it.

What was the reaction of your family?

The cost of just the prosthetic limb’s socket is around a lakh, so when I told my family that I wanted to play the game, 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 cost. I believe my family has struggled more, and they have kept their faith in me. I believe it is the result of that faith that I got the Paralympic Gold as also the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award.

What are your plans now for Paris Paralympics?

I would like to increase the mark of the highest throw as far as possible. When I had entered the game, the World Record was around 59mts, and now, I have taken it to 68mts. Now, I am aiming to take the mark up to 80mts.

You created 3 World Records and decimated them by yourself in just the finals of the Paralympics.

There was a lot of pressure. I have played World Championship and Asian games, but the pressure here was tremendous. People had a lot of expectations from me, and I knew I had to stand up to their expectations. When I walked on to the ground that day, I told myself that this is the day where everything concludes. All my pain, all of my practice have to be fruitful now. I wasn’t seeing whether my throw was breaking the world records, I was just giving my best behind every throw.

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Along with you, Neeraj Chopra, another brilliant athlete, has won gold in the javelin, where and how do you see the comparison between the both?

I don’t actually compare myself with anybody, let alone a great athlete like Neeraj Bhai. I don’t compare myself even with my fellow athletes, as their life journey is immensely different than mine. Everybody has their own story and journey. There are possibilities that if they had been in my place, they might not have clinched gold, and I might not have achieved what they have achieved had I been in their place, so I don’t compare. I rather believe that if you are better than yesterday, then you are moving in the right direction.

Do you see any difference in the way Paralympians are treated in comparison to Olympians by government or by the World?

There are differences, but I feel there is also a lot of improvement. Everything takes time to change. The way PM Modi has supported para-athletes, equalling us to Olympians, that has boosted my morale a lot. I admit that the public recognition is much less, but I believe it will improve with time and achievements.

If you could change one thing in Indian sports system, what would it be?

I don’t really feel like there is anything to change as such. If you compare the Paralympics performances from last time, you will notice that there has been a lot of improvement. Yes, on the grassroots level, we can say that the athletes of the grassroots level are deprived of opportunities. If they are given a chance to compete with accomplished athletes, they will have a lot to learn from them. There is a benchmark system in India. One has to throw the javelin up to that previously set limit in the high-level games. For instance, in javelin throw, the benchmark is 75, which poses a hurdle 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.

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How has your life changed after winning the Gold?

There have been many positive changes ever since the Gold. People recognise me, especially my car. There are only two such cars in the public domain: one is with me, and the other with Neeraj Chopra–Mahindra XUV700 Golden Edition. There are golden rings on it, which gives a different feel. Whenever I go somewhere, and people see this car, they know that either I will be in there or Neeraj Bhai. So, I have got a lot of recognition and I will try to make it an inspiration. I don’t want to be arrogant in any way. I want to keep working on my game without letting the success grow on me negatively.

What other sports do you like, other than yours?

I like to play volleyball, and I also practice a bit of wrestling with my friends. I practice upper-body moves of wrestling in my village.

Do you watch films?

No…not at all. I don’t have any time to watch anything on TV.

What about yiour fans, especially women? Ever since the Gold, you must have got a lot of fan following?

Fan-following is a different thing, but now, I am engaged.

Did you choose your partner?

No…my parents chose for me.

What message do you want to give to the youth of the nation?

I would like to say that one should set a big goal in their life, something that may seem impossible. Initially, people might laugh at you for eyeing that big a goal, but then if you have a strong will and work the hardest, there is nothing in this world that can stop you from achieving that.

first published:Nov. 13, 2021, 1:16 p.m.

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