Dubai: Indian Para shooter Avani Lekhara took the Best Female Debut honours with Dutch wheelchair tennis player Diede de Groot and Swiss wheelchair racer Marcel Hug among the winners of the 2021 Paralympic Sport Awards as announced by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on December 16.
The awards recognise achievements from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games across seven categories: Best Female, Best Male, Best Female Debut, Best Male Debut, Best Team, Best Official, and bp Courage Award.
Lekhara became the first female Paralympic gold medallist from India. The 19-year-old broke the Paralympic record and equalled the world record in the women’s 10-metre SH1 air rifle standing final. She also won bronze in the women’s 50-metre SH1 air rifle standing event to become the first Indian female to win two medals in the Paralympics. It was also India’s first Paralympic medal in shooting.
“It’s an honour for me to win this award. The focus was always on giving my best shot, bringing home medals for my country and showing that anything is possible with hard work, dedication and passion.
“I went there, and I just thought ‘take one shot at a time’, and that’s what I did. Just keeping my focus on the process, I was able to win a gold medal for my country.”
De Groot won the Best Female category after taking the Tokyo 2020 women’s singles and doubles titles without dropping a set in either competition. She became the first Wheelchair Tennis player to complete the calendar Golden Slam (winning all four Grand Slam titles and the Paralympic gold medal).
“The release of all the pressure, all the hard work, all the tears that went into it… That’s a huge amount of release that you get, of joy. It was very special,” said a jubilant de Groot.
Hug took the Best Male award. He made a gold sweep in all the four events — 800, 1,500 and 5,000 metres and the marathon — in the highly competitive T54 Wheelchair Racing class. The ‘Silver Bullet’ in the process also set a new World record in the 1,500 metres and a Paralympic record in the 5,000-metre heats.
A delighted Hug said: “I just want to say thank you for this award. For me it’s a great honour, it was just an incredible year for me with the Paralympics in Tokyo which were amazing.
“It was a very difficult year with Covid-19, but it was a big extra effort this year to make all these events possible, so thank you.”
The British Wheelchair Rugby team bagged the Best Team award, while Czech Republic’s Adam Peska took the Male Debut accolades. Peska won Boccia gold in the final of individual BC3 at Tokyo 2020. He managed to win all his matches and claimed gold with a tiebreaker against Greek legend Gregorios Polychronidis.
“It was one of the best feelings in my sports career. Participating at the Paralympic Games was one of my highest dreams.”
The Best Official award went to German Dr Anja Hirschmueller and the bp Courage award was won by Russian Paralympic Committee’s Viktoriya Potapova, who won judo bronze in the women’s — 48kg at Tokyo 2020.