Former junior world champion Hriday Hazarika and Haryana’s Nancy had a superb day to clinch their first individual senior World Cup stage medals, winning silver in the men’s and women’s 10m air rifle competitions at the on-going International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup Rifle/Pistol in Baku, Azerbaijan.
The Assam shooter shot a brilliant final in the men’s event, where his lowest score of 10.1 came in the very first of the 24-shot affair. Nancy was even better, recording a lowest of 10.2 in her final. However both went down to more accurate shooters on the day; Hriday to Hungary’s Zalan Pekler who shot 252.4 to the Indian’s 251.9, while Nancy, even after going into the final two shots with a 0.1 lead over China’s Han Jiayu, finished with with 253.3 to Han’s 254.0.
Both the men’s and women’s finals were of very high quality, with China’s Sheng Lihao recording a score of 9.9 in his 21st shot, the only score in the nines by the six medallists across the two finals.
It left China and India yet again locked in a battle for supremacy as with two more days to go, the former currently lead the medal tally with two gold, one silver and two bronze medals to the latter’s tally of one gold, two silvers and one bronze medal.
Men’s 10m air rifle
Hriday was the first to accept after the match that Hungarian Zalan Pekler was just too good on the day. The Hungarian who is in the form of his life, having won the gold in the 10m air rifle in the previous world cup stage in Lima last month, sizzled from qualification itself, going over the world record mark to shoot 636.2 for a second-place finish. China’s bronze medallist and Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Sheng Lihao, who topped qualification with a sizzling 637.9, in-fact broke his own existing world record set in Bhopal in March, to establish a new one. Hriday qualified seventh with 630.3.
On being asked whether he expected this performance at the start of the day, Hriday said, “Not really. I did not have any expectations as such. Just wanted to do my best and shoot according to the plan. I am happy that I was able to execute well today.”
It was a power-packed final with Chinese Air Rifle legend Yang Haoran, a former world champion and a Tokyo Olympic gold medallist also lining up besides compatriot Sheng, Hungarian ace Istvan Peni and seasoned Austrian Martin Strempfl, among others. However, the Indian did not waver even once and put up a superb performance along with Zalan.
Hriday began with a 10.1 and was in second place after the first five-shot series, just 0.8 behind Zalan. As others fell by the way side, Zalan and Hriday held on their spots right till the 20th shot, when Sheng pipped Hriday to second with a 10.9 in his 20th shot. But as the Chinese faltered on the 21st, Hriday secured his top-two finish, but despite best efforts, was unable to catch up with Zalan, eventually finishing just 0.5 behind.
The two other Indians in the fray, Rudrankksh Patil and Shahu Tushar Mane, shot scores of 628.8 and 628.1 to finish 19th and 23rd respectively in qualification.
Solid scores were also registered by Divyansh Singh Panwar and Arjun Babuta who were playing for ranking points only. While the former registered a 633.1, the latter finished with 630.6.
Women’s 10m air rifle
Nancy’s route to silver was slightly tougher as she did not have as solid a start as Hriday in the final although she also qualified seventh with a score of 631.6 in qualification. Han Jiayu topped with 634.3 as two other Indians, Ramita (631.4) and Tilottama Sen (629.7), ended in ninth and 15th positions respectively despite shooting well.
This was no less a power-packed final with none other than the reigning Olympic Champion Nina Christen of Switzerland lining up alongside the likes of Norwegian Jeannette Hegg Duestad and the three Chinese shooters.
“It was certainly the best performance of my career,” said the Haryana teenager after the match.
Nancy was fourth after the first five-shot series and by the time Jeannette became the first to be eliminated after the 12th shot, Nancy had moved up to sole third. Then Nina left in seventh place and Nancy moved further up to be joint second with Chinese Huang Yuting. By the end of the 16th, she was a full point behind Han and by the time she confirmed her medal with a 10.8 for her 19th and a 10.7 for the 20th, she was 0.6 behind the leader.
She continued with her excellent run and two more shots of 10.8 and 10.7, meant she was 0.1 ahead of Han going into the final two shots. But Han shot 10.7 to the Indian’s 10.3 for the 23rd and with 0.3 to make up in the last shot, Nancy fired a 10.2, her lowest score in the final, to Han’s 10.6.