Jakarta/Palembang: The ages of Indian champions are dropping, or so it seems. At least in shooting. If it is was silver for a 19-year-old Lakshay Sheoran in trap shooting on Monday, Saurabh Chaudhary went better on two accounts – he is 16 and won a gold medal in 10m air pistol at the 18th Asian Games.
It was India's third gold medal of the Games. Abhishek Verma, too, contributed a bronze from the same event, and later Sanjeev Rajput added a silver from 50m rifle 3-positions. That meant India bagged one gold, one silver and one bronze from the shooting ranges for the day to add to the two silver and one bronze India won in shooting on Monday.
Chaudhary said, "I did not feel any pressure. I just came to compete and do my best." He added, "I have been in good form and given good results and trained hard."
He won by a full point and kept his foot on the pedal through the day, and took it off only when the gold was his after the final shot of the day. It was his first competition at the senior level. He did have appearances and medal at the Junior and Youth competitions, including a gold medal at the ISSF Junior World Cup in Suhl, Germany this year. Last December, he won the Asian Youth Olympics qualification with a junior world record total and bagged a place in the 2018 Youth Olympics to be held in Buenos Aires in October.
Last year, as a 15-year-old, Chaudhary was part of the team that won the bronze ay 2017 World Juniors while finishing fourth in the individual event. 2017 also saw him beat the celebrated Jitu Rai in the 10m air pistol, after taking silver medals in Junior and Youth events that very day.
The 16-year-old's beard is neither a style statement nor a stubble. Given his tender age, it is just not prominent enough. Yet when the competition began, the lad quickly grew into a man and grabbed a gold medal, that gave him a Games record and India, its third gold medal of the Games.
A farmer's son, Chaudhary hails from Kalina, a small village where farming is the main occupation on the banks of Hindon river in Meerut tehsil in Uttar Pradesh. It is just under 30 kilometres from the main city of Meerut and has just under 500 families and less than 4,000 people. Kalina is said to be a safe place where the literacy rate is among the highest in the state.
Chaudhary took to shooting only three years ago and trained at Amit Sheoran's Academy in Binauli near Baghpat. The Academy is named after a great freedom fighter Baba Shah Mal, who hailed from the area and took on the might of the British.
Chaudhary keeps shuttling between National camps, national and international competitions and his home. When he is not training at the Academy, he loves to help his family with farming. Grounded, indeed.
Neither knowing fear nor the reputation of his rivals, Saurabh, who took to shooting because it caught his fancy, was among the top two from almost the start to finish. And when the dust had cleared, he had a gold medal hanging around his neck.
Chaudhary meant business from the qualification stage. In six sets he shot 99 three times and twice he had 98. Only once, in the third set, he dipped to 93, but his total of 586 in the qualification gave him the top spot ahead of 38-year-old Jin Jong-oh of South Korea, who has three gold, four silver and four bronze from four previous Asian Games appearances. Jong-oh won his first Asian Games medal, a bronze in 10 air pistol in 2002, just a few months before Saurabh was born.
The field also included Japan's Tomoyuki Matsuda, 42, who had two World Championships gold, in 10m Air Pistol and 50m Pistol, both from 2010 in Munich. When the Qualification stage of the final with top eight from the qualifiers ended, it also included India's other challenger Abhishek Verma. Matsuda was first, Chaudhary second and Verma fourth.
Next came the finals. Starting with a clean slate, Stage I of the final requires all eight finalists to take 10 shots each and at the end of that Matsuda had a clear two-shot lead over Chaudhary.
Then began Stage II, which is the elimination stage of the final. It was nail-biting.
Chaudhary trailed Matsuda for the most part of the elimination Stage II. As one by one the other finalists fell by the wayside in the elimination, only three were left on the range and they were Matsuda, Chaudhary and Verma in that order.
It may well have been an Indian fight for gold and silver, had Verma managed to shoot better than the 10.5 he shot in what turned out to be his penultimate shot. He shot 9.3 as Matsuda and Chaudhary shot 9.8. Verma had a 10.3 in his final shot against Chaudhary's 10.3 and Matsuda's 9.4. Still, Verma had to bid goodbye, but he did have a bronze to his name.
The next set of two shots, which was also the final set, clinched the issue for the young Indian. He shot a 10.2 against Matsuda's worst shot of the day, 8.9. That huge swing gave Chaudhary the lead for the first time. He did not waver in his final shot and scored 10.4 to Matsuda's 10.3. It also gave Chaudhary the gold medal by a full point at 240.7 to 239.7.
Now with this gold medal, Saurabh has arrived on the big stage. On Tuesday, in a matter of hours, he grew from being a boy to a man.
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Updated Date: Aug 21, 2018 15:37:11 IST