Zahra Nemati wins third consecutive Paralympic title in Tokyo tiebreak

Zahra Nemati celebrates winning the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Iran’s Zahra Nemati shot a perfect 10 in a shoot-off to win her third individual Paralympic gold in a row in Tokyo, successfully defending the title she first won at London 2012 and repeated at Rio 2016.

She is the second archer in history, after Paola Fantato, to win golds at three different editions of the Paralympic Games.

“I can’t really explain this feeling. It’s of course happiness. I think my performance showed everything I wanted to say,” she said.

“I knew these were going to be different Paralympics because of COVID, but I knew something big was going to happen. I want to congratulate everyone on this success.”

Nemati broke down in tears after shooting the winning arrow.

She has consistently made history since becoming the first woman from Iran to win a gold medal at either the Olympic or Paralympic Games, back in 2012, becoming a vocal advocate for disabled and women’s sport.

“My message to all the women is don’t surrender. Always keep your dreams in your mind. My dream was to get this medal and that’s the third,” she said.

Zahra had two scares in four matches on her route to the top of the podium.

Having seeded third in Tokyo, she faced Svetlana Barantseva of the RPC in her first head-to-head. The defending champion couldn’t find the nine she needed with her last arrow of the match – and left it to a tiebreak.

Curiously allowing her opponents to shoot first, an unusual tactic for a higher seed, Nemati delivered a 10 to Barantseva’s eight to survive.

“In archery, it’s important not to get stuck in your previous shot,” said Zahra afterwards. “Just move forward.”

And she did move forward, delivering convincing victories over Brazil’s Fabiola Dergovics and Greece’s Dorothea Poimenidou in the quarters and semifinals.

Zahra entered the arena one last time to face Italy’s Vincenza Petrilli, who had upset the top seed, reigning world champion Wu Chunyan in the semis. By this point, the drizzle had turned into rain and it was becoming difficult for the archers to maintain any kind of consistency, their equipment completely sodden.

The scene was dramatic, especially under the floodlights.

Nemati jumped to a quick lead, 5-1, but with multiple chances to end the final, it slipped through her fingers.

She shot a four to close the fourth set, needing a five to win it, and opened the fifth with a five, making the tiebreak all but inevitable. Under pressure, the then-two-time Paralympic Champion delivered.

Vincenza shot a high nine, about a centimetre inside.

Nemati left nothing to doubt, her arrow not only landing in the 10 but nearly hitting dead-centre to take gold.

At her first Paralympic Games, and only her second international after the final qualifier for these Games, Vincenza’s silver medal is somewhat unexpected – and a brilliant result.

“This is the biggest thing I’ve achieved in my life,” she said. “I didn’t expect it and that’s why I’m so emotional right now.”

Reigning world champion Wu Chunyan, who was runner-up to Nemati at the last Paralympics in Rio, finished with bronze in Tokyo after beating Greece’s Poimendiou in four sets.

Competition continues in Japan with the recurve men’s finals on Friday 3 September.