Jakarta: Young Saurabh Chaudhary justified the exalted status of Indian shooting when made history by shattering Chinese hegemony to before the first and the youngest Indian to win Men’s 10m Air Pistol gold medal on debut with a Games Record of 240.7 in the shooting competition at the 18th Asian Games in Palembang on Tuesday.
Compatriot Abhishek Verma took the bronze with 219.3, while Japan’s Tomoyuki Matsuda, who led for most of the final, won silver with a tally of 239.7. Later Sanjeev Rajput scripted a sort of record by registering India’s best-ever finish in the 50m rifle 3 positions event with a silver medal.
He fired 452.7 to finish second behind Zicheng Hui of China, who came out of nowhere to clinch the gold medal with a score of 453.3. Takayuki Matsumoto of Japan bagged the bronze with 441.
First-ever senior event
Saurabh, who was competing in this first-ever senior event, earned another distinction of winning India’s first gold from the shooting range in this edition of the Games and only their eighth shooting gold across all editions of the Asian Games.
He had won the Asian Championships in the same event in 2017 and also finished fourth at the Junior World Championships in the same year. Abhishek Verma, also making his competitive debut at a major event, and yet to be picked for World Cup, settled for the bronze medal.
Before this, only Indian to have won a medal in this event was Vijay Kumar, who had claimed a bronze in 2010 Guangzhou Games. Saurabh and Abhishek had beaten more experienced duo of Jitu Rai and Om Mitharval at the national selection trials to be selected for this competition and they justified their inclusion.
This event was introduced in the Asian Games in 1974 at Teheran and in the previous 11 editions, Chinese have won gold 7 times, followed by Korea (2) Japan and North Korea (one each).
Displaying tremendous self-belief, Saurabh led a very strong field of 40 shooters in the qualification round and made the cut for the final with 586, two points ahead of former Olympic Champion Jin Jongoh from Korea. Saurabh had earlier set a World record, scoring 243.7 at the ISSF Junior World Cup in Suhl, Germany, where he won a gold medal in the same event.
Verma, a qualified lawyer, started hitting the big targets when he needed them most as he fired 10.7 to move to the second position, pushing Saurabh behind, when six contenders were left in the play-offs.
However, a slight loss of concentration (9.1) in the next shot made him slip to number three, as Saurabh once again, came back to the silver medal position with a 10.6, as four contenders were left.
And then luck played a role as Matsuda shot 8.9 on his penultimate shot to slip from the top position. The young Indian showed nerves of steel, scoring 10.2 and 10.4 on his last two shots to secure the top position.
Chaudhary, a student of class XI, will be off to the World Championships after the Games. He learnt the tricks of the trade at Amit Sheoran’s academy at Benoli near Baghpat, 53 kilometers from Meerut. Whenever he is home, he helps his father in the farming business.
Fourth for Rajput
The 37-year-old Sanjeev Rajput, bagged his fourth medal at the Asian Games. He had won a silver and bronze in the 10m air rifle team event in 2010 and 2014 respectively, and a bronze in the 50m rifle 3 positions team event in 2006.
The Indian was on top after the first 10 shots in the kneeling position, but muffed shooting a rare 7.8 in one of his next five shots to slip to second. However, he maintained his composure and got the lead back after the next 15 shots in the prone position, taking a healthy three-point lead over his nearest contender-China’s Chang Haoran.
The standing position round was more of a roller coaster with Haoran and his compatriot Hui Zicheng giving Rajput some tough competition. Rajput scored 10.5 on the penultimate shot before the eliminations to lead by 0.3 points right before the last five shots.
With six shooters left, he fumbled and shot an 8.4 to slip to the third position. He then shot a 10.4 to go back to the silver medal position, in the process assuring himself of a medal.
Rajput had finished seventh in the qualifiers after scoring 1160, while Haoran qualified first with a score of 1174.
Indian shooters have so far won six medals-1 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze in just three days of action so far.