Avani’s gold triggers windfall for India at Tokyo Paralympics

Para shooter Avani Lekhara after her gold-medal winning performance at the Tokyo Paralympics on Monday.
Para shooter Avani Lekhara after her gold-medal winning performance at the Tokyo Paralympics on Monday.

Para shooter Avani Lekhara etched her name in history as the first Indian woman to win a Paralympic gold. It was a windfall for the country on Monday morning in Tokyo as Devendra Jhajharia and Sundar Singh Gurjar made it 2-3 in javelin throw F46. Yogesh Kathunia got silver in discus throw F56.

At 11, Avani suffered a horrific car accident which caused severe injuries to the spinal cord. Since then, she has been bound to a wheelchair. While searching for a meaning to live at that tender age, Avani came across Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra’s autobiography ‘A Shot At History’.

She got inspired and thought of trying her hand at shooting. Her father too encouraged her to channelise pent up frustration through sport.

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And there stood Avani, in 2015, winning her first shooting medal at her first State Championship in Rajasthan. Currently ranked No 5 in the world, Avani won silver at the IPC Para Shooting World Cup in 2017.

In 2019, she won silver at the Para Shooting World Cup at Osijek in Croatia. She won gold at the first National Para-Shooting Championships in the Women’s 10m Air Rifle SH1 in 2021.

Avani’s sensational international performance won her a berth at the Tokyo Paralympics. She qualified for the final by finishing seventh in the qualification round with a total of 621.7 in S1 category. In the SH1 Rifle category, shooters have an impairment in their legs and are able to hold a gun with their arms. Some athletes compete in a seated position, while others compete in a standing position.

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In the final, Avani was in sterling form from the beginning. On her way to gold, she equalled the world record and set a Paralympic record while an impressive total of 249.6.

China’s Zhang Cuiping won silver with a total of 248.9 while Ukraine’s Iryna Shchetnik got bronze with a score of 227.5.

“I can’t describe this feeling, I’m feeling like I’m on top of the world. I’m so happy I could be the one to contribute,” Avani, 19, said after her win.

Avani is the fourth Indian to win gold at the Paralympics after swimmer Murlikant Petkar in 1972, Devendra Jhajharia in javelin throw in 2004 and 2016 and Mariyappan Thangavelu in high jump in 2016.