Shooter Avani Lekhara Paralympics, firing her way to the top of the podium in the R-2 women's 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1 event here. The 19-year-old from Jaipur, who sustained spinal cord injuries in a car accident in 2012, finished with a world record equalling total of 249.6, which is also a new Paralympic record.
She is only the fourth Indian athlete to win a Paralympics gold after swimmer Murlikant Petkar (1972), javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia (2004 and 2016) and high jumper Mariyappan Thangavelu (2016).
"I can't describe this feeling, I'm feeling like I'm on top of the world. It's unexplainable," an elated Lekhara said. Hers is also the first shooting medal that India has logged in the showpiece. "I'm so happy I could be the one to contribute it. Hopefully there's a lot of medals more to come," Lekhara said.
Lekhara edged out 2016 Rio Games gold-medallist Cuiping Zhangh of China who clinched the silver medal with a total of 248.9 at the Asaka Shooting Range. World number one and reigning world champion Iryna Shchetnik of Ukraine took home the bronze with an effort of 227.5.
"I was just saying one thing, that I have to take one shot at a time. There's nothing else matters now, just take one shot at a time and just finish it.
"I just think that I have to follow the process. Beyond that, I try not to think about the score or the medal tally," Lekhara said reflecting on her final.
This is Lekhara's first major international medal. She had finished fourth in the last world championship in 2019.
Appearing in her maiden Paralympics, Lekhara, ranked fifth in the world, consistently shot 10s in both the competition stages. She was set to obliterate the world record but two 9.9s towards the end cost her the mark. In the qualification round, Lekhara had finished seventh with a total 621.7. Encouraged by her father to get involved in a sport, Lekhara initially tried both shooting and archery.
She found she enjoyed shooting more, and was also inspired by 2008 Beijing Olympics gold-medallist Abhinav Bindra after reading his book. She began shooting in 2015 at Jagatpura Sports Complex in Jaipur. A student of law, Lekhara made her debut for India in 2017 World Cup in Al Ain, UAE.