Veronica Vadovicova overcame a world-class field in R3 (mixed 10m air rifle prone SH1) to claim her and Slovakia’s second gold medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
And Veselka Pevec won a nail-biting battle for gold to earn Slovenia their very first gold medal of the Games in a much-anticipated R4 (mixed 10m air rifle standing SH2) final on Saturday (10 September).
Three women progressed to the R3 final with Vadovicova and silver medallist Natascha Hiltrop of Germany dominating from the onset. South Korea’s Jangho Lee secured the bronze medal in his debut Paralympic Games.
“It’s a very big satisfaction for me,” said the double gold medallist Vadovicova.
“In R3 there are maybe 10 or 15 shooters who could win. I feel very well, but more tired this time because it’s a very tough competition.”
Vadovicova has a perfect record in Rio so far with two wins from two events and is already looking forward to sharing her success with the people of Slovakia.
“I want to inspire the children and I also work in a special program for people in Slovakia as a motivator,” she said.
“After the Paralympic Games I will visit many schools so I will take my medals to show them.
“Both medals feel great, one isn’t better than the other.”
Vadovicova knows the hard work isn’t finished yet with two more events on her schedule including R8 (women’s 50m rifle 3 positions SH1) on Tuesday (13 September) and R6 (mixed 50m rifle prone SH1) on the final day of competition for shooting para-sport (14 September).
“I still have two more competitions so I must rest and get some more sleep,” she said.
Hiltrop was the youngest competitor in the field, at just 24 years old, but was no stranger to the finals hall finishing sixth in London four years ago. The silver medal has motivated her to keep excelling in the sport.
“I don’t intend to stop shooting anytime soon” she said. “I am aiming for Tokyo, but right now I just want to give my best for my next competitions and what happens then, we will see.”
Hiltrop gained momentum as the final unfolded shooting three perfect 10.9’s in the round of single shots.
“I don’t really know how I did it, it just happened,” she said. “I am extremely happy and I can’t really believe it.”
The final field of eight athletes was reduced from 45 entrants in qualifications, which included a surprise early exit from two-time R3 Paralympic medallist Matt Skelhon of Great Britain. Skelhon finished the qualification round in 11th place, opening the door for the likes of Lee.
“It is my first time at the Paralympics and I just want to have some experience, not for the medals,” said the 27-year old bronze medallist.
His fellow countryman Jinho Park is the reigning R3 world champion and finished eighth in the final but, for Lee, he was more of a supporter than an opponent.
“Jinho and I are really close and also roommates at the village,” said Lee. “He helps me a lot and we spend a lot of time together.”
Pevec showed nerves of steel to pinch the R4 gold medal from her compatriot, Gorazd Francek Tirsek on the very last shot of the final. South Korea’s Geunsoo Kim collected bronze.
“Not even in my dreams did I think I could win,” said the debutant gold medallist. “I have achieved the maximum I possibly can.”
Tirsek held a 0.4 lead heading into the deciding shot and fired a 10.1 leaving it to Pevec to respond with something special. With a boisterous crowd behind her, Pevec pulled the trigger and produced a 10.7 to snatch victory from Tirsek.
“The whole final I was just thinking that I have to be focused on the target and I had to hit the middle,” she said.
“Actually, I didn’t really hear the crowd because when I train it is much louder than here.”
Tirsek won silver in London and was second again in Rio after having gold snatched in the dying seconds. Tirsek found consolation knowing his countrywoman was the one to overthrow him.
“The last shot was not my best so I am not happy,” said Tirsek. “But my friend from Slovenia won the gold medal so I am happy for that.”
The Slovenian faced stiff competition from Kim who challenged hard during the final to come within 0.3 of first place, but fell short towards the end to win a deserved bronze.
“Although I didn’t get the first or second prize I am very happy with bronze,” said Kim.
“I wanted to do as well as I did in practice, but it wasn’t like that,” he said. “Still, I have no regrets.”