EXCLUSIVE | Having a calm, composed mindset key at Tokyo Paralympics: Niranjan Mukundan

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Niranjan Mukundan will be competing in his maiden Paralympics in Tokyo.

Bengaluru: 19 surgeries on foot since birth! That doesn’t deter Niranjan Mukundan as the Bengaluru swimmer is living his dream of representing India at the Tokyo Paralympics starting August 24. Mukundan was granted a bi-partite quota meaning India will now have two para-swimmers at the event.

Suyash Narayan Jadhav had qualified earlier. While Mukundan qualified in the S7 category where he will be in action in men’s 50m butterfly event, Narayan Yadav will compete in two events — men’s 50m butterfly (S7) and men’s 200m individual medley (SM7).

“As this is going to be my first Paralympics, my only focus is to put up a good show,” Mukundan told Sportslight Media. “I want to take it one day at a time. Being in the Tokyo Paralympics has been my dream. I have a lot of responsibilities on me and don’t want to rush into anything.”

Born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which a developing baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly, and clubbed feet, Mukundan started swimming at the age of seven after getting the go-ahead from his doctor.

The Karnataka native soon fell in love with the sport, eventually representing India for the first time at the 2013 IWAS World Junior Games in Puerto Rico. Like other athletes, swimmers were the most affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Not allowed to use the pools for almost the whole of 2020, Mukundan resumed training early this year and was still optimistic a couple of months earlier about making the cut. But with the Ticket to Tokyo in hand, he is more confident now and wants to give the best shot on his Paralympics debut.

“I am going in with a lot more confidence than I had probably a year ago because of the pandemic and stuff. Altogether it’s all about that day and how one performs on that given day,” said Mukundan, owner of 66 medals so far.

Currently training under two coaches, Mukundan isn’t thinking too much about the strategy but aims to break his personal best at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on August 27. “I train with two coaches – John Christopher (India) and an overseas coach from Spain, Miguel Lopez – and both of them sync together when it comes to my training.

“All three of us are going with a collective plan of giving the best on that particular day and if I can break my personal best, that’s going to be my first strategy. That would give me a lot more boost and confidence,” added the 26-year-old.

India’s lone swimming Paralympics gold came through Murlikant Petkar at the 1972 Heidelberg Games in the men’s 50m freestyle event. Since then, no Indian swimmer has been able to finish on the podium. This is also the first time after the Heidelberg Paralympics India will participate in two para-swimming events.

“I am also hoping to make it to the finals because after 1972 no Indian para-swimmer has made it to the finals or the top 8,” Mukundan added. At the Tokyo Olympics, India had three swimmers – Srihari Nataraj, Maana Patel and Sajan Prakash – but none could make it to the finals.

Mukundan admitted that having a calm and composed mindset will be the key in Tokyo. “I believe if I can keep my calm and composure in Tokyo that is going to give me that extra edge,” concluded Mukundan.

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