Tamil Nadu gives a ‘special’ show at this Olympics

The players, who arrived at Chennai airport from Abu Dhabi on Saturday, speak to TNIE on their achievements, dedication and other things.
The athletes were greeted at Chennai International Airport with garlands, presents, hugs and congratulations from their families and friends. (Photo| Sunish P Surendran, EPS)
The athletes were greeted at Chennai International Airport with garlands, presents, hugs and congratulations from their families and friends. (Photo| Sunish P Surendran, EPS)

CHENNAI: Hours of hard work and years of training paid off for the 21 stars, who arrived at Chennai airport from Abu Dhabi on Saturday. It is not the medals but the sense of belonging that they experienced — being with a determined group of sportspersons at the Special Olympics 2019, held from March 14 to 21 — which made their day. “Gokul Srinivasan is a tough competitor. After developing an interest in swimming, he started showing lesser signs of fatigue than usual.

Gokul Srinivasan, who won two medals in swimming at the  Special Olympics. (Photo | Sunish P Surendran, EPS).
Gokul Srinivasan, who won two medals in swimming at the  Special Olympics. (Photo | Sunish P Surendran, EPS).

With 200 per cent dedication, he worked hard to clinch gold in 1,500 meters and silver in 800 meters,” says Gokul’s brother Abhishek, who was instrumental in his 15-year-old sibling’s achievements. Gokul has autism spectrum disorder. After three attempts over 12 years, Arti Krishnamoorthy made it to the Indian contingent and won bronze in swimming. Although content that his son Chitharthan made it to the Olympics, Thirumalai from Madurai criticises the state government for having taken little to no effort to receive and recognise the athletes. “Not many represent India in the cycling event.

While Dinesh won bronze in 5 km road race, my son finished fourth. Language is a barrier for these athletes, who are divided into groups based on their abilities. As they are not fluent in Hindi, they end up being in high-level categories,” he says. “Special talents in Tamil Nadu have become invisible in the government’s eyes. Unlike the Himachal Pradesh and Haryana governments, the state government here has not been supportive of special athletes.

When athletes expressed their interest to meet the Madurai collector before leaving for the games, his personal assistant shunned the request saying that he (collector) was too busy for pictures,” he says. The Madurai collector was unavailable for comment. Divya Bharathi, a 22-year-old with a mental disability, was one of six athletes from Bethshan Special School, Madurai, representing India in badminton. “Gold medal (singles) silver medal (doubles) I got. Very very happy (sic),” she says and joins her fellow athletes for a photo.


Divya Bharathi, a 22-year-old, who won a gold and silver medals in badminton. (Photo | Sunish P Surendran, EPS)

Behind every successful Olympic champion is another champion, believes VK Power Palani, a national gold medallist in powerlifting, from Chennai. “Twenty-three-year-old VS Abhishek, who has a learning disability, gave me the opportunity to become a special coach and represent India at Abu Dhabi. India has won the maximum medals in powerlifting and Abishek, by bagging four silver medals, has made a significant contribution,” he says. 

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Paul Devasagayam, the area director of the Special Olympics Bharath, is the man behind the screen of every athlete’s success story. Right from building confidence to improving their Activity of Daily Living (ADL), Paul’s contribution to their growth is immense. Calling the attention of the government, he says, “Special athletes overcome many hurdles to get to the Olympics.

Though they were treated like kings and queens in Abu Dhabi, it is sad that no sports authority or PwD officer received them. The state government should acknowledge their efforts.” Proud of his self-motivated athletes and pupils, basketball coach Vinodh from Puducherry says, “Jagadeshwari (unified football) and Karthik Raja (unified basketball) gave their best. Their determination and hard work inspire me to train more special athletes.”

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