In the lead-up to the Rio Olympics, Jitu Rai was India’s biggest medal hope. The unassuming Armyman was world No 2 in the 50m pistol event and third in the 10m air pistol event. He was in form and he seemed to be unfazed by the hype surrounding the Olympics – or so we thought.

Things didn’t quite turn out the way Rai was hoping they would. The 29-year-old Nepal-born shooter finished eighth in the 10m event and then seemed to suffer a nervous breakdown of sorts in the 50m event to not even qualify for the final. He finished 12th – beaten, broken and a feeling a little lost. For a while, he even doubted himself.

In a recent interview with the New Indian Express, he spoke about how he felt after crashing out of the Olympics.

“I have fears in my mind too,” he said. “There was a lot of questioning post the Olympics. The Rio debacle is dead and buried but it is a strong reminder that things can go wrong. I’m not sure what will happen in future. Just mulling over the matter won’t take me far.”

Back to the range

But while the Rio debacle made him seem more human, it did not mean he slacked off. Far from it, he re-dedicated himself to the sport. The only way to get better was to hit the shooting range again. He figured out a way to accept his shortcomings, to work on them and the result is there for all to see in the 50m Free Pistol final of the Delhi edition of the ISSF World Cup.

He had already claimed a gold in the mixed event with Heena Sindhu and a bronze in the 10m Air Pistol event on Tuesday. So when he qualified in second position for the final – it was clear that his run of good form was continuing.

But he didn’t start off well – much like the 10m final. A shot of 6.6 in the first set of five shots had him in the trouble and then in the second set, he had consecutive shots of 8.8 and 7.4. His points total at the end of the first ten shots was just 93.8.

The other India in the fray – Amandeep, was shooting like a king and easily holding on to the top spot. He had a total of 98.9. A huge difference of 5.1 points.

Jitu Rai's first ten shots. Screenshot (ISSF)

But somehow, Rai showed a welcome tenacity. Everytime, he was in the shoot-off to get knocked out, he produced a shot in the high 10s to survive. The nerves, that seemed to fail him at Rio, were firmly back in place.

In fact, from time to time, a faint smile seemed to escape his lips. He clearly wasn’t overawed. Rather, he was enjoying this. As he mounted a run for the gold, the crowd started backing him. Every good shot was greeted by a huge roar and Rai used that energy to fight back even harder.

In his last 10 shots, he had seven scores over 10 and three in the 9s. This was the kind of consistency that made him so feared and today, with his back to the wall, he did it was a nonchalance that was mind-blowing.

Amazing consistency in the last ten shots. Screenshot (ISSF)

In the end, Amanpreet faltered but even he couldn’t help but smile. This was a comeback for the ages.

“I didn’t have a perfect start today, but I guess that’s the fun of the sport,” Rai said after the final. “I like it that way, uncertainty is part of the game, otherwise there is no excitement. I climbed into the lead shot after shot and I think it was a nice match. I closed the 2016 season with a World Cup final silver, and I always dreamed about starting 2017 in the best way here in India. I wanted our flag to fly high.”

Rai might go on to do great things in the future, dare say at Tokyo 2020, but this will always be remembered as the moment when he laid the ghosts of Rio to rest.