Trailblazing shooter Avani Lekhara on Friday became the first Indian woman to win two Paralympic medals by claiming the 50m Rifle 3 Position SH1 bronze to add to an unprecedented gold she had secured earlier in the ongoing Games in Tokyo.
The 19-year-old Lekhara, competing in her debut Games, qualified second for the event with a score of 1176, including 51 inner 10s.
In the fiercely contested finals, Lekhara totalled 445.9 to finish ahead of Ukraine’s Iryna Shchetnik, who let slip her grip on the medal spot with a poor third shot of 9.9 in the elimination.
“It was a tough final but I’m happy to have made it into bronze. I could have done better than this. It’s just what finals do to you,” Lekhara said on her performance.
Lekhara had become the first Indian woman to win a Paralympic gold by claiming the top honours in the 10m air rifle standing SH1 event. That was also the first-ever shooting medal that India had won in the Games.
“There are a lot of things on which I have to work, and I will definitely do better than this next time. There were a lot of distractions but I gave my 100 per cent to this,” she said, referring to the celebrations that followed her gold medal.
The Jaipur-based shooter, who sustained spinal cord injuries in a car accident in 2012 rendering her immobile, had fired a world record equalling total of 249.6, which was also a new Paralympic record.
Prior to her, Joginder Singh Sodhi was the lone Indian to win multiple medals in the same edition of the Games, when he fetched one silver and two bronze medals in the 1984 Paralympics.
His silver came in shot put, while the two bronze medals were won in discus and javelin throw.
Javelin thrower Devendra Jhajharia is the other multiple Paralympic medallist but all his three medals (two gold and a silver) have come in different editions of the Games.
The gold in Friday’s event was claimed by China’s Zhang Cuiping with a new Games record of 457.9, while German Natascha Hiltrop took the silver with a 457.1 in the final.
Athletes in SH1 Rifle have an impairment in their legs, for example amputations or paraplegia. Some athletes compete in a seated position, while others compete in a standing position.
Lekhara is not done yet and will next be seen in the mixed 50m rifle prone SH1 event also featuring Deepak and Siddhartha Babu.
She started shooting on the insistence of her father in 2015 at a Jaipur shooting range.
“She was angry at her condition and hardly had a desire to talk to anyone. For a change, I used to take her to JDA shooting range in Jagatpura, Jaipur, where she developed interest in shooting,” her father Praveen Lekhara had said after the gold medal win in 10m air rifle competition.
The youngster was also inspired by Olympic gold-medallist rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra after reading his autobiography, which was a gift from her father.
A student of law, Lekhara made her debut for India in 2017 World Cup in Al Ain, UAE.
In the men’s 50m Rifle 3P event, Deepak failed to qualify for the finals after finishing 18th with a score of 1114.
With Lekhara’s bronze, India’s medal tally has risen to 12.
The country has won two gold, six silver and four bronze medals so far, an unprecedented and truly remarkable performance given that its combined haul for all previous Games stood at 12 before this.