Commonwealth Games 2018: Jitu Rai shows unflinching determination to win gold; Indian youngsters come of age

What a delightful racket is being made by the gold medals earned by the Indian contingent in the Commonwealth Games 2018 in Gold Coast! The young and the experienced, the expected and the unexpected, the brainy and the brawny have all combined to create some amazing notes that will stay entrenched in their hearts of Indians back home for a long while.

On Monday, Jitu Rai won the 10m air pistol final in his characteristic unflappable manner to give India the usual golden start to its day while the badminton team and the men’s table tennis squad took India’s tally of gold to 10. Four silver and five bronze medals have swollen the nation’s kitty to 19 as it climbed to the third place on the medals table behind host Australia and England.

Commonwealth Games 2018: Jitu Rai shows unflinching determination to win gold; Indian youngsters come of age

Jitu Rai won gold medal in 10 m air pistol event at the Commonwealth Games 2018. AP

Rai and his fellow shooters' feat is certainly commendable but it's important to celebrate the men’s table tennis team for defeating the formidable Singapore 3-2 in the semi-finals and then vanquishing Nigeria 3-0 in the gold-medal match. Achanta Sharat Kamal, 35, was the hero of the semi-final victory, pulling off win in both his singles matches.

The quiet confidence and imposing authority which the paddlers have exuded in this journey has been an eye-opener for many but not to those who have seen the pieces of the jigsaw come together, silently and efficiently. The double bonanza, with the men emulating the women’s squad by winning gold, is not something that many table tennis fans will forget in a hurry.

Each of the players who featured in the badminton finals are heroes, shuttlers like Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth and doubles exponent Ashwini Ponappa are already well-known names. Satwik Rankireddy, 17, took those crucial steps to make a strong impact on the outcome of the final against Malaysia and on TV-viewing audience.

Of course, it needed Ashwini Ponappa to helm him on court and channelise his undeniable energy and aggression in the opening match but they came together as a strong partnership, determined, intense and smart. At a time when the fans in the Carrara Sports Arena went quiet because the Malaysians were gaining the upperhand, the mixed doubles pair exported energy to the stands.

Srikanth’s maiden victory over legendary Lee Chong Wei in straight games was a masterclass in control and focus. Of course, the Malaysian ace is ageing and, given Srikanth’s form, the current World No 2 was expected to win. But the authority with which he controlled the game was, simply stated, admirable.

After Malaysia pulled off a win in the men’s doubles match, it was up to Saina Nehwal to ensure that she would beat a younger Soniia Cheah so that the contest would not spill over to the women’s doubles rubber. Even though she dropped a game to the Malaysian, Nehwal’s courtcraft saw her run out winner. Both in the first and third games, she won 11 and 12 points in a row to swing the momentum her way.

Talking of shifting momentum, one of the most gallant attempts was made by weightlifter Pardeep Singh in the 105 kg class. It was not bravado that he showed as he manfully strove to get past Samoa’s Sanele Mao with his final lift of the competition. After having assured himself of at least a silver medal, the 23-year-old attempted twice to dislodge the Samoan from his perch but in vain.

Gurdeep Singh’s earnest desire to win India its 10th medal in the weightlifting competition came unstuck by his inability to lift 218 kg in clean and jerk and by the ability of his three biggest challengers to do better than him in this variant. He finished fourth with a total of 382 kg in an event that saw the top three tally a record 403 kg, 400 kg and 395 kg respectively.

It meant that India’s lifters finished with nine medals. Three of their five golds came from women, Mirabai Chanu (48kg class), Sanjita Chanu (51kg) and Punam Yadav (69kg). Sathish Kumar Sivalingam (77kg) and Ragala Venkat Rahul (85kg) were the other gold medallists while Gururaja Poojary (56kg) and Pardeep Singh (105kg) added silver and Deepak Lather (69kg) and Vikas Thaukur (94kg) picked up bronze medals.

Even before the weightlifting competitions drew to a close, the shooting squad moved in to take over the baton and continue the task of adding medals to India’s tally, If teenager Manu Bhaker captured the public consciousness on Sunday, the familiar Rai, Kolkata teenager Mehuli Ghosh, the Rajasthan duo of Apurvi Chandela and Om Prakash Mitharval were in charge on Monday.

Rai, 30-year-old Armyman from Lucknow, won the 10m air pistol title, showcasing unflinching determination and poise throughout the final. His score of 235.1 is a new Games record. His younger team-mate Om Prakash Mitharval, who equaled the Games Record in qualifying, secured bronze, ruing an 8.4 that came at the most inopportune time in the final.

For Rai, this would have been some redemption who had shot a lowly 78.7 in the Olympic Games final and was was the first to be eliminated in Rio. To be the last man standing on Monday would have given him some satisfaction. But then as World No 4, he was expected to win this one and he did that in great style in the final.

Rai was only fourth best in qualifying, series of 92 and 94 bringing his total down to 570 but Om Prakash Mitharval, 22-year-old Armyman from Rajasthan, shot an impressive 584 points to top qualifying in the 10m air pistol. His series of 96, 96, 98, 99, 96 helped him equal the Commonwealth Games qualifying record, set by compatriot Omkar Singh set in Delhi in 2010.

India’s gold medallists on Monday had to share some of the limelight with 17-year-old Mehuli Ghosh who came up with a perfect shot of 10.9 on what would have been her final shot in the 10m air rifle final. She believed that she had pipped Singapore teenager Martina Lindsay Veloso to gold and broke into a smile when she realised they were tied with a Games mark of 247.2.

Perhaps unable to overcome the sense of joy and relief, she could not compose herself and ended up shooting a 9.9 while the Singapore lass punched a better mark to claim gold. Mehuli Ghosh had beaten defending champion Apurvi Chandela, who had shot a new Games record in qualifying, to the battle for gold.

There would be some disappointment that India missed out on a 1-2 in both finals but it was made up somewhat by the realisation that the youngsters in the squad have picked up wonderful experience of competing and performing well in multi-discipline Games. That can ensure that the delightful racket that is being heard in sports circles now will continue in the Asian Games.

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Updated Date: Apr 09, 2018 21:01:26 IST

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