TOKYO: Shooter Avani Lekhara scripted history on Monday as she became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal at the 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 campion 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.
The teenager's performance was lauded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi "Phenomenal performance @AvaniLekhara! Congratulations on winning a hard-earned and well-deserved Gold, made possible due to your industrious nature and passion towards shooting. This is truly a special moment for Indian sports. Best wishes for your future endeavours," Modi tweeted.
The PM also spoke to her over phone to personally congratulate her.
She will also be competing in the mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone SH1, the women's 50m Rifle 3 Positions SH1 and the mixed 50m Rifle Prone event.
In the SH1 Rifle category, shooters are able to hold a gun with arms.
The athletes have an impairment in their legs, for example amputations or paraplegia.
Some athletes will compete in a seated position, while others will compete in a standing position.
Discus thrower Yogesh Kathuniya clinched a silver medal in the men's F56 event here on Monday as athletics remained India's happy hunting ground at the Games.
The 24-year-old, a B.Com graduate from New Delhi's Kirorimal College, sent the disc to a best distance of 44.38m in his sixth and last attempt to clinch the silver.
#WATCH | Tokyo: Discus thrower Yogesh Kathuniya got emotional after winning a silver medal in class F56 in paralympics— ANI (@ANI) August 30, 2021
"I am exalted on winning the silver medal. I want to thank SAI, PCI (Paralympic Committee of India), & especially my mother for their support," he says pic.twitter.com/OlKhLSxkAC
On Sunday, India had picked up a silver (high jump) and a bronze (discus throw), which is on hold due to a protest.
Son of an Army man, Kathuniya suffered a paralytic attack at the age of eight which left him with coordination impairments in his limbs.
Brazil's defending champion, reigning world champion and world record holder Claudiney Batista dos Santos won the gold with a best throw of 45.59m while Leonardo Diaz Aldana (43.36m) of Cuba took the bronze.
In F56 classification, athletes have full arm and trunk muscle power.
Pelvic stability is provided by some to full ability to press the knees together.
He won a bronze medal in the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai with a best throw of 42.51m which also booked him a Tokyo berth.
It was during his time at the KMC that his potential was noticed by several coaches and he soon came under the tutelage of Satyapal Singh at the Jawaharlal Nehuru Stadium.
A few years later, he came under the guidance of coach Naval Singh.
He created a world record in F36 category in his first ever international competition in 2018 at the Para-athletics Grand Prix in Berlin.