It's hard to imagine an athlete used to so much adrenaline to stay still and focus on a single shot. This was the case for American Kevin Mather, a former Para alpine skiing player that switched to archery for good in 2017 and now celebrates the gold in the men's individual recurve - open event of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
And his result was more than stunning for a debutant, since he beat 6-4 China's Zhao Lixue, a gold medallist in the recurve team event in Rio de Janeiro. The Chinese team had been dominant in the contests in Japan so far, winning most of the events.
“It feels heavy at the moment. It feels incredible. This is my first time seeing one from these Games up close. I'm just blown away. I'm glad that my training was enough. Often, (there are) times you put in the work and shoot until your fingers are calloused, blistered and bloody and you hope when you show up on the day that you put in enough work. This medal proves that to me,” said Mather to the Olympic Information Services (OIS).
After the result, the American archer confirmed he was feeling nervous.
“This is the Paralympic Games. I'm under the spotlights, I've got the cameras in my face, I got people yelling, music … this is like a fantasy land, and I'm the one shooting on the stage. How do you train for that? I just fall back to like what my mental game does for me.”
For Zhao, losing the final is nothing but an incentive to aim for a back-to-back gold medal in tomorrow's recurve team event.
“There are definitely some regrets of not being able to stand on the podium for the gold medal, but it's also something that motivates me to work harder, to step up for the game. “I never thought that he (MATHER) was going to be able to get the gold medal until the very last moment when it was (official), that was when I realised that he won the gold medal. I always had hope that I would win the gold medal until the very last moment, he said”.
The bronze ended up with India's Harvinder Singh, who defeated Kim Min Su from Korea 6-5. This was the first Games for the archer, who is a PhD student and practises in his university.
“Bronze is good because this is my first Paralympics … the next Paralympics it might be gold. I was practising in university because I am pursuing a PhD there and then, during (covid) lockdown, I converted my father's farm into an archery range, and I have been practising there around six months," he explained.
The archery schedule will come down to a close on Saturday, 4 September, with the recurve team event at the Yumenoshima Park . China and Iran are already in the quarterfinals.