As wave after wave of raucous cheers echoed around the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range, Saurabh Chaudhary was an island of calm. Unflappable. In a field of battle-hardened veterans, the 16-year-old seemed to be the only not feeling the pressure.
Fittingly then, he ended the day with the gold medal in the 10m air pistol event, a quota place for India for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and a world record — his score of 245.0 a culmination of peerless shooting containing just five shots in the 9s.
The teenager has burnished his reputation by shooting a gold at the Youth Olympics at Buenos Aires, and smashing the world record at the Junior World Championships in Changwon and clinching the Asian Games gold at Jakarta-Palembang.
But Sunday’s performance, against the backdrop of a vociferous home crowd, was the kind of dominance that has seldom been seen from Indian shooters.
True, the 10m air pistol final had three other shooters — Michael Heise, Kulchairattana Pongpol and Han Seung-Woo — competing in their first final at a World Cup. But it was still far from a field a 16-year-old should have dominated.
China’s Pang Wei is a gold medallist from Beijing 2008 and a bronze medallist at Rio 2016, not to mention a six-time medallist at the season-ending World Cup Finals. Han Seung-Woo is the World No 8, who experienced the high-pressure cauldron that a Finals can be at the Changwon World Championships last year. Damir Mikec has nine World Cup medals besides two in World Cup Finals. Two-time Olympian Lee Dae-Myung has four World Cup medals to his name.
Yet, the teenager raced into the lead by the fourth shot of the first series. And despite the next two shots being 9s, he never relinquished his position. Five more shots later, he had raced to a lead of 2.6.
“I didn’t think about the 9s, just looked ahead,” Chaudhary later told journalists at the press conference. “I never thought of winning a quota, or about making the world record. I just wanted to do my best. The competition was very tough, but it helped that I never saw the scoreboard. I knew I had a big lead but didn't let that cloud my thoughts. I just kept shooting as I was.”
A coy Chaudhary admitted that he was feeling the pressure of shooting at a home World Cup before the action began. But once the shooting started, he never looked fazed, despite the crowd’s cheering getting louder with each shot.
“It feels great to win at home. Such crowds are everywhere, even at the Asian Games, but I have never bothered about such things,” said Chaudhary.
“I am very happy with his performance. I think he shot really well, his performance was up to the mark,” India’s junior pistol shooting coach Jaspal Rana said. “He is a quiet guy. Doesn't go for many functions or promotions, doesn't even use his phone much. He is very disciplined.”
This inner calmness helped the 16-year-old from Meerut weather the storm on Sunday.
“Still, even he needs to be monitored, because nothing can be taken for granted in sports," added Rana.
As bigger challenges approach, it'll be the 16-year-old's ability to cut out the metaphorical noise that will hold him in good stead.
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Updated Date: Jan 09, 2020 20:43:05 IST