Paralympic champ Sumit Antil breaks world record again; sometimes pain is like a stab to the stump, he says

TOKYO PARALYMPIC champion javelin thrower Sumit Antil, like Olympic gold medallist Neeraj Chopra, has a target on his mind — in metres. While Chopra’s goal is 90 metres, Antil’s is 80. Chopra, the World Championship silver medallist, is six centimetres short of his goal. At the Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru late on Friday, Antil moved a little closer to achieving his target.

Competing in the Indian Open National Para Athletics Championships, Antil rewrote the world record for the fourth time in a year with a throw of 68.62 metres, breaking his own mark of 68.55 metres. Three of these marks were astonishingly set during the final of the Tokyo paralympics en route to winning gold.

When he broke the record again in Bengaluru, Antil, whose left leg was amputated after a motorbike accident seven years ago, heaved a sigh of relief. “For me, even a few centimetres is big progress,” said the 24-year-old thrower from Khewra in Sonipat.

Friday was a special day for Indian para athletes as discus thrower Yogesh Kathuniya, a silver medal winner at the Tokyo Paralympics, also set a new world record with a throw of 48.34 metres. In the javelin throw, able-bodied athletes like Chopra and World Champion Anderson Peters use their extended left leg to block and transfer energy to the upper body before release. A good block is a crucial element in throwing biomechanics. For Antil, a prosthetic limb — a stump, a stump sock, a silicon liner and a socket — is the landing leg.

“Keep one hand on the ground and try to balance your body. Now hold a pen in your hand, keep that hand on the ground and try to balance again. That is the difference between an able-bodied thrower and a para athlete thrower like me. To get the balance on that heel is very difficult. In an artificial limb, only the back of the heel touches the ground and there is no toe impact in the last part of the block. There are no muscles so it is a big challenge. All the power you have generated becomes zero. If your body is not connected to the ground there is no power,” Antil said, speaking to The Indian Express a day after his record-breaking throw.

In Friday’s final, Antil was in the provisional lead from the start but had to contend with Sri Lanka’s bronze medallist from the Tokyo Paralympics, Samitha Dulan. Antil set the world record in the third round, Dulan won the silver with a throw of 65.27 metres which he registered in Round 1.

“I had a positive mindset and the competition was good because the Sri Lankan was also there. I was confident I would break the world record. My aim is to cross the 70-metre mark by the end of this year. 80 metres is the ultimate aim. I want to experience what an 80-metre throw is,” Antil said.

The gold and the world record put Antil at ease because he was itching to get back to his best after missing out on a few months of practice because of felicitation functions post the paralympics. Chopra, too, had started his season late because of extended celebratory functions he had to attend. But while Chopra put on weight, Antil lost it.

“Actually, Neeraj and my body types are different. I had lost muscle weight, so I became about seven to eight kg lighter. But losing muscle weight is not a good thing. Ninety percent of the power of my throw comes from the upper body. I was about 98 kg (during the Tokyo Paralympics) and till about five months back I weighed about 90. Now I am at optimal weight but it took a lot of strength training to get back to shape,” Antil said.

Training and throwing is a painful process for the world champion — like a “stab to the stump,” he said. Pain from cuts, sores and hotspots on the skin around his stump need constant attention, too.

“During training, there is discomfort because of the friction as there is a silicon liner, stump sock and the socket. There is also sweat in the area. Sometimes the skin (around the stump) gets raw. Even before one cut heals another one appears. There is no permanent solution. At night I apply a lotion before sleeping and I hope it gets better by morning,” he said.

Last year, during an Indian Grand Prix in Patiala, Antil participated in a field, which included Chopra. He finished seventh but won praise for his competitive spirit. “I have to consult my coach before participating against able-bodied throwers. At the moment, we are working on improving speed (on the runway) and arm speed, technique and better balance of the body, including the prosthetic leg. Throwing 80 metres needs everything to work perfectly and it won’t happen overnight. But then, no dream is easy to achieve.”

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