India's Avani Lekhara scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman to win gold at the Paralympics after winning the women's 10m air rifle standing SH1 event on Monday at the Tokyo Paralympics. Lekhara is just the fourth Indian to win gold at the Paralympics after Murlikant Petkar (swimming), Devendra Jhajharia (javelin throw) and Mariyappan Thangavelu (high jump).
Lekhara is the first Indian to win a medal in shooting at the Paralympics. She's also only the third Indian woman to medal at the Paralympics after Deepa Malik (shot put, 2016) and Bhavinaben Patel (table tennis), who both won silver.
At 19, she's also the youngest Indian ever to medal at the Paralympics. The previous youngest was Mariyappan Thangavelu, who was 21 when he won gold at the Rio Paralympics.
Lekhara was in sterling form in the final as she equaled the world record and set a new Paralympic record while shooting an impressive total of 249.6. She had earlier finished seventh in the qualification round with a total of 621.7.
China's Zhang Cuiping won silver with a total of 248.9, while Ukraine's Iryna Shchetnik won bronze with a score of 227.5. Zhang and Shchetnik had earlier finished first and second respectively in the qualification round with identical scores of 626, setting a new qualifying Paralympic record in the process.
Zhang was the defending champion, while Shchetnik is the world no. 1 and reigning world champion.
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"I can't describe this feeling, I'm feeling like I'm on top of the world. It's unexplainable," Lekhara said.
"I'm so happy I could be the one to contribute it. Hopefully there's a lot of medals more to come. I was just saying one thing, that I have to take one shot at a time. There's nothing else that 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 after the final.
This is India's first gold and fourth medal overall at these Games. Both Bhavinaben Patel and Nishad Kumar had earlier won a silver each in women's singles table tennis class 4 and men's T47 high jump events respectively on Sunday, while Vinod Kumar had won bronze in the men's F52 discus throw event.
The current World No. 5 in women's the 10m air rifle standing SH1 event, 19-year-old Lekhara is making her maiden Paralympics appearance in Tokyo.
A major car accident in 2012 injured her spinal cord, making her dependent on a wheelchair.
Three years on, after her father's encouragement, she decided to try out her hand in professional shooting and archery. As luck would have it, she got inspired to take the former seriously after reading India's first individual Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra's autobiography, A Shot At History.
Lekhara, now supported by OGQ, had recently won a silver medal at the 2021 Para Shooting World Cup. She will have a chance to win more medals at these Games as she'll also be in action in three more events: women's 50m rifle 3 positions SH1, mixed 10m air rifle SH1 and mixed 10m rifle prone SH1.
Among the other Indian shooters in action on Monday, Swaroop Mahavir Unhalkar narrowly missed out on a medal, finishing fourth in the men's 10m air rifle standing SH1 event with a score of 203.9 in the final. Deepak Saini failed to qualify for the final after finishing 20th in the qualification round.
Unhalkar had earlier finished seventh in the qualification round with a score of 615.2. Saini will also be in action in the men's 50m rifle 3 positions SH1 and mixed 50m rifle prone SH1 event later in the week.