CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu’s Mariyappan Thangavelu was among the five athletes who would be conferred with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, it was announced on Friday. Mariyappan becomes only the second sportsmen from the state – after Viswanathan Anand – to be bestowed with the award.
The 25-year-old para athlete, hailing from Salem, caught everyone’s attention when he won the high-jump gold at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Three years later, Mariyappan bagged bronze in the men’s high jump event of the World Para Athletic championships in Dubai to qualify for Tokyo Paralympics.

Mariyappan feels the honor is a result for all the hard yards he has put in over the years. “It is one of the biggest achievements of my career. To feature in the list of awardees which include names such as — Rohit Sharma, Vinesh Phogat, Manika Batra and Rani Rampal — feels surreal. The Khel Ratna award will definitely act as a motivation for me in my pursuit for gold at the 2021 Paralympics,” Mariyappan told TOI on Friday.
Mariyappan revealed how he wasn’t ready to celebrate till the names were made official. “I was a little nervous till the official announcements were made. I am very happy at this point and all those tough times that my mother endured to fuel my ambition of becoming an athlete came flashing before me,” he added.

The covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown meant that Mariyappan had to resort to only strength training in the last few months. “I have never been away from doing high-jumps for this many months. But that’s the case with most athletes across the world as these are unprecedented times. I hope to resume my full-fledged training in the coming months,” Mariyappan said.

His coach M Satyanarayana isn’t too worried about his ward’s lack of practice. “He (Mariyappan) is blessed with a flexible body. Mariyappan may not have done the high jumps for the last few months, but will regain form once we start our sessions. Hopefully, we will kick-off our training from October,” Satyanarayana said. All that the coach wanted Mariyappan to do in the last few months was to watch his weight. “There is a natural tendency for athletes to put on some weight when they don’t engage in full-fledged training sessions. But thankfully, that’s not been the case with him,” the coach said.
Does he have plans to train abroad ahead of the Paralympics? “I don’t have any such plans at this point. My first aim will be to get to the physical shape I was before the lockdown and take things forward from there on,” said Mariyappan.

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