ISSF World Cup: Jitu Rai returns as pedigreed winner with gold medal, burying ghosts of Rio

Jitu Rai hugged teammate Amanpreet Singh moments after the final of men’s 50m pistol competition. Jitu had just done the unthinkable: he had won the gold medal after flirting with elimination in the earlier rounds of the final. He had knocked Amanpreet from his assured gold medal in the last two shots in the 24-shot final.

For the Naib Subedar, who is attached to the 11 Gorkha Rifles, it was a proud moment on Wednesday that two from his country had won the historic 1-2 on the podium and that too at home. Teammates, officials of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), jury members too jumped in the huddle. Jitu was hoisted atop, after all he had just won the first gold medal for the hosts in this competition.

“I was happy for Amanpreet as this was his first-ever world cup medal. But I was more happy for the fact that we won two medals at the world cup which was being held at home and we made our country proud,” he said.

Jitu Rai is back to his winning ways after winning the Men's 50m pistol event. PTI

Jitu Rai is back to his winning ways after winning the men's 50m pistol event. PTI

Just to sum up his rise to the top, he narrowly avoided getting eliminated twice in the final. After shot 20, Jitu was 4 points adrift of Amanpreet. In the next two, he had closed in within 0.3 decimal points and went into the lead in the penultimate shot. The comeback was complete with a cool 10.5 that sent the crowd and the officials in frenzy.

From miraculously surviving the drop twice in 50m free pistol, Jitu showed steely resolve and shaved the difference of over six points between him and Amanpreet. “Yes, I started badly. But I never thought I was out of the competition. In fact I was confident that I may win a medal,” he said.

A day before — Tuesday to be precise — Jitu had mounted a similar revival in the final after slipping out of contention in the first series of five shots in the men’s 10m air pistol competition. He survived the first elimination with a narrow margin of 0.2 points.

He overtook Vietnam’s Tran Quoc Coung and China’s Yan Wei into the fourth place by the 17th shot after a series of 10s. And medal was in the bag by shot number 18 with two consecutive 10.6s.

If we include the gold medal in the mixed team in 10m air pistol that he won with Heena Sidhu — the event of which has been accorded Grand Prix status due to it being a a test event — Jitu was on the podium for three straight days.

And with it the 29-year-old has truly restored his reputation of a pedigreed winner, which took a severe beating after his disappointing showing at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Revival post Olympics

Heading to the Rio Olympics, Jitu was hyped as one of the sure-shot medal winners. In 2014, he caught the attention by winning three World Cup medals in over a week. Silver in 50m pistol at Munich was followed by gold in 10m air pistol and silver in 50m pistol at Maribor.

He then snapped up the 50m pistol gold in both 2014 Incheon Games as well as at the 2014 Glasgow Games. In the lead up to the Rio Games, he won a bronze medal in air pistol at the Changwon (South Korea) World Cup in April. The winning run continued at the Bangkok World Cup where he stood top of the podium in 50m pistol. It was followed by silver in air pistol at Baku.

With this kind of winning pedigree, it was but natural for everyone to expect a medal. Instead he returned home with a bruised ego.

He stood eighth in the men’s 10m air pistol after scoring a below par 78.7 points in the final and he was 12th in the 50m pistol.

Like the air pistol event, Jitu had a horror ending in 50m, where he had only one score of 10 in his last five shots too.

“What happened in Rio was an accident. This is the only way I can explain what exactly happened there,” India’s pistol coach Pavel Smirnov said of his Rio performance.

Jitu’s revival started with a silver medal in the 50m pistol competition at the World Cup Finals that was held in Bologna.

His highs at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting range during this competition may have attracted a lot of attention, but according to Smirnov it starts a new circle in Jitu’s life. “This competition is the first step towards Tokyo Olympics.

"Because it was the first step, we were not worried by scores in the qualifications. Having said that World Cup at home is a big moment and it was important to win. And he shot like a tiger in the final,” Smirnov added.

Simple man

Jitu’s ability to forget his bad shots is what makes him the best in this business. London Olympics silver medallist Vijay Kumar, who has travelled a lot with Jitu during internationals as well as at the Army’s Marksmen Unit in Mhow, had once told this correspondent that Jitu was one of a kind. “Jitu will never be seen talking to a mental trainer or seen analysing a bad shot. He returns to his room after training. He is a simple man, that is the best thing about him,” Kumar had said.

This honest assessment is what defines Jitu Rai, who originally hails from Sankhuwa Sabha district in Nepal and is very much attached to his simple way of life.

Updated Date: Mar 02, 2017 15:06 PM

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