In the midst of supervising the building of their new house in the village of Khewra near Sonepat, Nirmala Devi’s 25-year-old son Sumit Antil smashed the world record in the men’s F64 javelin throw. At the Hangzhou Olympics Sports Centre, Antil shattered his personal record of 70.83 metres with a tremendous throw of 73.29 metres. Devi then instructed the construction workers to provide extra room for her son’s gold medal from the Asian Games.
“Jab bhi main puchu ki mere liye kya layega videsh se, hamesha kahega ki medal hi launga. (Whenever I ask him what will you bring for me from abroad, he always says I will certainly get you the medal). He is very particular about his world records and plans to make a marking wall at our new home. Perhaps we have to wait for the Paris Olympics to get the finishing touch,” says an elated Devi while speaking with The Indian Express.
Ram Kumar, an Indian Air Force member, was Antil’s younger brother. He passed away from cancer in 2004. Like many young people in Haryana, Antil participated in the village’s dangals and dreamed of being a wrestler. He received additional training at Sonepat’s SAI Centre.
However, he was involved in a motorbike accident on January 5, 2015, on the Sonepat-Dewra route. He was sent to the Base hospital in Delhi Cantt, where medical professionals had to decide whether to amputate his left leg.
“He stayed at the hospital for 53 days. Par hamesha hamein kehta raha ki himmat rakho (But he would always tell us to keep faith). He was very good in studies too and was going to his tuition classes when the accident happened. Sometimes he would tell us to bring his books to the hospital to make him feel good. If he would have stopped believing at that time, all these medals and glory would not have come,” says Devi.
A few days after being discharged from the hospital, Antil travelled to Pune with a portion of the family resources in order to obtain a prosthetic limb. After meeting paraathlete Ram Kumar, he began training with Para Asian Games medallist Virender Dhankar, and afterwards with coach Naval Singh, who had won the Dronacharya award. Other competitors at the Nehru Stadium in Delhi encouraged Antil to try his hand at long jump or other sports, but Antil stayed to the javelin.
“Sumit’s strength from Day One has been his adaptability and not to complain about conditions. When he came to train under me, he shared the room with another athlete and would do all the chores like washing clothes or making own food too. It took a lot of time for him to adjust to the prosthetic leg and I would make him throw for a distance of 25-30 m initially. He would walk and not run as the prosthetic leg would run against his knee and blood would ooze out with multiple attempts. So he also learnt making throws while sitting at the hammer throw net. Wrestling has made his upper body muscles very strong and it’s still an advantage for him,” says Naval.
With a throw of 61.32 metres at the 2019 Paris Grand Prix, Antil broke the world record in the F64 category after just four years of training. In the same year, he broke the record in the global championships in Dubai with a throw of 62.88 metres. Antil faced off against Neeraj Chopra in the 2020 Indian Grand Prix, finishing seventh with a 66.43-meter throw to earn a spot in the Tokyo Paralympics. He had trained in Finland, just like Chopra.
“In 2018, we got him training in Finland with the invitation from 1988 Olympic gold medallist Tapio Korjus and Sumit competed against able-bodied javelin throwers. Right from the start, his action has been like German Johannes Vetter and he used the fall technique but then he suffered elbow injuries. So we made some changes in his technique and the upper arms and shoulders generated the jerk for him. Training against somebody like Neeraj has always helped him mentally too as he thinks about approaching the marks like 65m, 70m, 75 m the same way,” says Singh.
With a world record throw of 68.55 metres, Antil won the gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics, breaking the record three times in the final. Before breaking the 70-meter barrier with a throw of 70.83 metres at the world championships in Paris this year, Antil set a new world record at the Indian Open last year.
“The only challenge for Antil has been in getting adjusted to the new prosthetic leg whenever he gets it after multiple tournaments. It takes some time for the knee to adjust and sometimes it bleeds too. But once he gets it set, it’s all about his technique. He can cross the 75 m mark soon and who knows he can cross the 80m mark too,” says Singh.