Asian Games 2018: Led by young Saurabh Chaudhary, shooters help India boost medal tally on Day 3

If he knew fear – or even that familiar nemesis of athletes, pressure of expectations – Saurabh Chaudhary would have looked at the start list of the 10m air pistol final in the Asian Games at Palembang on Tuesday and told himself two words: “Forget it.”

Even a cursory look at the field would have convinced him that it was easily one of the toughest bunches of men to be competing with. It had a four-time Olympic gold medalist Jin Jong-Oh (Korea), a two-time world champion Tomoyuki Matsuda (Japan) and a multiple Asian Games gold medallist in Lee Daemyung (South Korea).

Forget it? These words perhaps do not figure in Saurabh’s lexicon. The 16-year-old from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh shot superbly to claim the gold medal which, along with the silver won by 19-year-old trap shooter, Lakshay Sheoran, have confirmed that the young Indian shooters’ performances in the past few months was no flash in the pan.

Saurabh’s ability to hold his nerves together shone through in the second competition stage in the final – when the Russian Roulette was brought into play. Lying second till 14 shots and slipping to third after two more shots, he missed a 10 only once in the last eight shots. Matsuda was off the 10s as many as four times, including an inexplicable 8.9 under pressure.

Saurabh Chaudhary and Abhishek Verma with the Indian tricolour after winning gold and bronze respectively in the 10m air pistol event. AP

Saurabh Chaudhary and Abhishek Verma with the Indian tricolour after winning gold and bronze respectively in the 10m air pistol event. AP

Saurabh would have been two years old when Sanjeev Rajput was knocking at the selectors’ doors, winning 50m rifle 3-positions gold and 10m air rifle silver behind Gagan Narang in the National Championships. On Tuesday, while the 16-year-old pistol shooter helped keep India’s tryst with gold on the third successive day, Rajput was living his own dream.

The 37-year-old made a statement by winning his first individual medal in the Asian Games when he minted 50m rifle 3-positions silver with steady shooting in the final. It was only an 8.4 in the first shot during elimination that dragged him down. But for someone who was thought of as weak in standing, he did well to come up with four successive good shots to take home silver.

There were bronze medals for Abhishek Verma in 10m air pistol, women’s 68kg freestyle wrestler Divya Kakran and the Sepak takraw team, as India’s medal haul touched double figures.

Before we turn our attention to the day’s bronze medals, it would be apt to spend a few moments considering the efforts of three athletes – swimmer Virdhawal Khade, gymnast Dipa Karmakar and archer Deepika Kumari. It was apparent to anyone, who watched closely, that the trio gave it their all, unmindful of the younger lot of competitors around them.

Karmakar would rue the penalties she conceded in both her attempts on the vault as she watched her teammates Pranati Nayak and Aruna Budda Reddy claim berths in the final. Yet, she soldiered on and not only helped the team make it to the final but also earned herself a place in the beam final.

Deepika had to overcome the thought of shooting a 1 with the final arrow in her 10th set while she slipped to an unfamiliar 17th with 649 points in the ranking round. With the poise of a seasoned professional, she said the team had used the opportunity to gauge the wind conditions at the Archery Field and would strive to be competitive in the matches ahead.

Khade, 26, had to endure a heartbreak in the 50m freestyle final, missing the medal by a mere hundredth of a second.

“The National record is of little significance after I was unable to win this medal,” he said when someone sought to console him by reminding him that during qualifying, he had rewritten the National mark that he had pegged nine years ago.

He remains eager to pursue his desire to become India’s first individual multiple medal-winning swimmer in the Asian Games.

He believes he will quickly put behind the disappointment of missing a medal on Tuesday and be in competitive trip, when the 50m butterfly event takes place in a couple of days.

He is not the sort who would wish he had longer finger nails that would have helped him stake a march over Japan’s Shunichi Nakao, who made light of swimming on the first lane. Like his teammate Katsumi Nakamura, and gold medallist Yu Hexin (China), he swam faster than he did in the heats. Khade, on the contrary, was a shade slower than when he set the National record.

Kakran, who has seen the rough end of life growing up in East Delhi, was not the one to look at a gift horse in its mouth. She drew a bye in the pre-quarterfinals of the 12-player draw. She lost to Mongolia’s Tumentsetseg in the round of eight and then watched her conqueror beat Chen Wenling of Chinese Taipei to get to the final. It was her ticket to the medal round.

With the draw having only four wrestlers in the top-half, Kakran had a chance of fighting for a medal. The 20-year-old had to beat the Chinese Taipei wrestler in the bronze medal bout and she did that with a measure of comfort, almost as if she had been mentally preparing herself for this one bout.

The Indian Sepak takraw Regu team was assured of a medal in the six-team event as soon as it beat Iran 2-1 in the preliminary group B on Monday. Its semi-final defeat by Thailand on Tuesday meant that it could not aspire to get a better medal. Yet, the nation did not hesitate in celebrating this medal as a first in the sport in four attempts in the Asian Games.

There should be no doubt that Verma’s bronze in the 10m air pistol event was the toughest of the three that India won on the third day of competition in the Asian Games. He was sixth in qualification with 580, but showed that he was up for a hard grind in the final. He was second after 14 shots, but two successive low 9s pulled him down to bronze medal position.

The Indian team has won 10 medals so far, including three gold and three silver. It is assured of four more medals from the Sanda discipline in Wushu competition where Roshibina Devi (women’s 60kg), Santosh Kumar (56kg), Surya Bhanu Pratap Singh (60kg) and Narender Grewal have made it to the semi-finals.

The significance of shooting contributing six medals will not be lost on anyone and that is especially because of the fact that the shooting squad’s maiden gold at this Games came from a 16-year-old, who does not know fear or the pressure of expectations. Of course, he will discover one or the other trait, if not both, as he progresses in his career.

Yet, for the moment, his uncomplicated approach is worth being cherished, celebrated and emulated. Will Manu Bhaker replicate this when she takes centerstage on Wednesday? Or, will she show that some excess baggage in the mind can come in the way of tasting success?

 
 

Updated Date: Aug 23, 2018 17:09 PM

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