He has spent the better part of last three years in Ukraine getting battle-ready for the 2020 Paralympics but with the COVID-19 pandemic causing a postponement, accomplished Indian high jumper Sharad Kumar is grappling with the anxiety of “starting from the scratch” again.
Kumar has been training in Ukraine since 2017 in his bid to win a medal at the Tokyo Paralympics, postponed to next year due to the pandemic.
A double Asian Para Games high jump champion and a world silver-medallist, Kumar said the thought of having to wait for another year is making him uneasy.
“I have done meticulous planning and hard training in last three years with the sole aim of a medal in Paralympics. Now I am not doing any training,” Kumar told PTI fro Ukraine.
“…there will be no competition this year and so I have to start from the scratch next year,” he said.
“Naturally I am disappointed but what can I do. The world is in crisis now. Sports is secondary at present. Athletes are human beings also and I am not thinking about sports now but about the misery the world is facing.”
The 28-year-old is currently based in Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine which is nearly 500km from capital Kiev. He is training under Nikitan Yevhen who was earlier in India as a Sports Authority of India (SAI) coach.
Kumar won a gold in the high jump T42 category in 2014 Asian Para Games before finishing on top again in 2018 in T42/63 category.
His silver winning effort in the 2019 IPC World Para-Athletics Championships (1.83m) in Dubai fetched him a ticket to the Tokyo Paralympics, which will now be held from August 24 to September 1 next year.
The high jump T42/63 category is for athletes who have lower limb deficiency, leg length difference, impaired muscle power and impaired range of movement.
At the age of two, Kumar suffered paralysis of his left leg after being administered a spurious polio medicine during a local eradication drive.
“I will not say I am desperate to go back home, because I have become used to here as I have been training for last three years. But the postponement of Paralympics has been a big disappointment,” said Kumar, who was born in Patna.
“I have won back-to-back gold medals in the last two Asian Para Games, won a medal each (both silver) in IPC World Para-Athletics Championships.
“I have been a world number one. The only thing I have not won is a Paralympics medal. That is my ultimate dream,” he added.
Asked if he is missing home, he said, “I was in India after the IPC World Para-Athletics late last year. I would have loved to come back home if possible. But there is no international flight operating currently.”
Kumar, who donated Rs 1 lakh to the Cares Fund to fight the pandemic, is currently under the government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme and he is also a SAI coach.
Besides, he is getting support from GoSports Foundation.
“The support from TOPS and GoSports is not enough. I have to spend from my pocket for the accommodation here which is not cheap,” said Kumar who holds a Masters in International Relations from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
On how is he spending time without training in a foreign country, he said, “I am following stock exchanges on the internet. I started investing in stock market shares since I was a 17-year-old. So, I surf internet and collect information on stocks and shares.
“We athletes need extra income. I am a SAI coach but any additional income is welcome. The share markets are going down these days due to this coronavirus and it is good for investors in stock market if you put money intelligently.”