Natalie Smith set Australia on the path to Paralympic glory with a bronze medal in the women’s 10m Air Rifle Standing last night.
Smith and team mate Elizabeth Kosmala both made the final of the first shooting event of the 2012 Paralympic Games, Libby finishing eighth.
The Aussies are polar opposites when it comes to Paralympic experience, Smith shooting in her first Games and Kosmala her 12th as she wraps up an amazing sporting career.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” Smith said. “I’m very, very pleased and completely over the moon.”
“It’s very surreal. I keep looking at [the medal] and thinking it’s going to disappear!”
Natalie’s medal came down to her very last shot, after her ninth round scored 9.6 and dropped her down to fifth place. But she held it together for a 10.5 on the last, enough to claim a podium spot.
“I thought I had lost it with the shot before and to actually see my name up there was absolutely amazing,” she said. “You can win or lose all on one shot, which I proved today.”
China’s Zhang Cuiping took the gold, repeating her nation’s feat of scoring the first medal in the Olympic Games a few weeks ago.
“The people of our country are very happy and the leader of our team came to see, as I was the first champion of the Games,” she said.
Zhang was the only athlete to crack 500, shooting her way to a new Paralympic record in qualifying with a score of 396 before also topping the final with another record score, 104.9, for a total of 500.9.
Manuela Schmermund of Germany won silver, shooting 102.6 in the final to lift herself from equal fifth in qualifying.
Her score of 493.6 was just ahead of Smith’s 492.4.
Kosmala said afterwards she was disappointed to make the final but not win a medal, and had expected she’d do better.
This will be Libby’s last Paralympic Games. She has competed at every Games since 1972, winning nine gold medals and three silvers. At 70, she is the oldest competitor at the 2012 Games, and is also one of the most highly respected.
As well as her Olympic medals, she was awarded the Order of Australia for services to air rifle sport, the Australian Sports Medal and a Centenary Medal.
But we haven’t seen the last of her yet. On Saturday night, Australian time, she will compete in the mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone event.
Meanwhile, Park Seakyun and Lee Juhee won gold and bronze respectively for Korea in the men’s 10m Air Pistol, with Turkish competitor M Korhan Yamac taking the silver medal.
The gold went all the way to a shoot-off between Park and Yamac, the Korean’s 10.8 shot cementing the win against the Turk’s 9.9.
Read more on the Australian Paralympic Committee website.