Indian para-athletes face societal difficulties: Paralympic champion Heinrich Popow


Mumbai: Reigning Paralympic 100 metres gold medallist Heinrich Popow of Germany believes differently-abled Indian athletes have to overcome more difficulties compared to their western counterpart because of the country’s society.

Apart from his gold at the 2012 London Paralympics, Popow also won the yellow metal at the 2011 and 2013 Worlds and 2012 European Championships.

“Indian society is completely different. Here para-athletes have to overcome more difficulties than we do in western countries. We don’t have to be worried about what’s next. Being interested in these things, helping each other will automatically help them,” Popow told a news agency in an interview.

“Also you have to have interest. If Indians hold the interest and try to learn, then they will educate themselves more. So I suggest to the youngsters to keep training, find clubs where they would get good coaches. They also need to communicate very well with each other.”

The Kazakhstan-born sprinter is here to conduct a running clinic for people with disabilities. The clinic with 12 participants from varied backgrounds ran for three days from December 3 to 5.

The 32-year-old’s left leg was amputated up to the thigh at the age of nine, as a consequence of a Ewing’s sarcoma in the left fibula (knee disarticulation). However, his biggest concern those days was about not being able to play football.

“I was lucky that it happened to me when I was young. The reason why I was angry and not positive after it happened was that I was not able to play football. And that is the reason I am running. I was never thinking about the things I can’t do. I was always focussed on how I can go out and play with my friends,” said the Leverkusen resident.

Before starting athletics in 2001, Popow tried football, after amputation, at Bayer Leverkusen where he also works part-time as an IT systems administrator.

“I always wanted to be a footballer, just like in India every kid wants to be a cricketer. It was a dream come true for me to work for Bayer Leverkusen and running for the club. But a time came when playing football was against me; so I shifted to track and field,” said Popow, who also has one silver and five bronzes in Paralympics in other disciplines like 200m, 4x100m and long jump.

The sprinter is totally focussed on his training which will eventually help him to defend his title at the 2016 Rio Games.

“After coming third in 2004 Athens, second in 2008 Beijing and first in 2012 London, I am looking forward to defend my gold medal in Rio. I am putting a lot of work into it. Apart from 100m, I will go for long jump and 200m,” said the German, who won the long jump gold too at the 2011 Worlds.

Popow spoke positively about famous Paralympian Oscar Pistorius for his contribution for para-athletes. The latter was found guilty of murder on Thursday in a South African court.

Pistorius killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013 after shooting four times through a locked toilet door. The South African is currently under house arrest after spending one year of his original five-year sentence in jail.

“As an athlete and disabled person, I am really thankful to Oscar. Without him, the world would not have known and seen what can be done and is possible with a disability. Without Oscar we would not have been in place where we are right now,” he said.

“We all have to be thankful to him. What happened in private we can’t judge. He is destroyed and shocked for his whole life. My opinion about Oscar is positive, I like him a lot for what he did for us,” Popow concluded.