Before the shooting events began at the ongoing 18th Asian Games, the focus of expectations has largely been on the young guns and the few veterans in the squad. Understandably, given the Commonwealth Games showing earlier this year where Manu Bhaker, Anish Bhanwala, Sanjeev Rajput, Heena Sidhu won gold.

But somewhere in between the rising stars and the seasoned campaigners, lie the in-betweens, the consistent shooters who have been representing India at all the major events and have maintained a good average score, even if not always winning gold.

Apurvi Chandela and Ravi Kumar, who opened the medal tally for India at the 18th Asian Games, come under this category – both of them have been the top shooters for the last year India in the 10m air rifle category.

The 28-year-old Ravi Kumar is the national champion, a World Cup bronze medallist who is mentored by Abhinav Bindra. The 25-year-old Chandela was the runner up in 2017 senior national, the Commonwealth Games champion in 2014 and won a ISSF World Cup bronze in 2015.

Both also won bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games earlier this year and have played in both individual and mixed team at each of the three World Cups India participated this year – Guadalajara, Changwon and Munich. Together, they had finished fourth at the first ISSF World Cup of the year in Mexico.

And the duo displayed this experience and dependability when they won bronze medal in the 10m air rifle mixed team event behind Chinese Taipei and China.

Also read: Asian Games Day 1 Live

Tense final

It was a tense final as the top three places kept alternating between Chinese Taipei, Korea, India and China. This was a first-time event at the Asian Games, but the field was by no means inexperienced.

Defending 10m air rifle champion and former world champion, 22-year-old Yang Haoran and Zhao Ruozhu, who won the gold in her World Cup debut, were part of the Chinese team which staged an empathic comeback. Chinese Taipei’s Ying-Shin Lin and her partner Shao-Chuan Lu have won the individual gold and bronze at the ISSF World Cup in Munich this year. Korea’s Hyeon Jun Kim was part of the silver-medal winning team at the 2014 Asiad.

But Kumar and Chandela were steady throughout the final, maintaining their spot in the top three to ensure a medal. They were in silver-medal position, but their last four combined shots had only one 10 and the World Cup gold medal-winning Chinese duo pipped them to silver.

After qualifying for the final in the second position behind Korea, India maintained their second spot, with a difference of just 0.4 from the top-placed Korea after the first 20 shots. They were still second with 308.5 points once the eliminations began.

This is where Kumar stumbled a little, with a couple of 9s, but Chandela, shooting second, had a steady string of 10s but India fell to third by 0.2 points as Korea lead with 349.2.

And then came the best shots from the duo – a 10.7 from Kumar and 10.4 from Chandela to go back to second. It was great shooting under pressure, which all but ensured a medal.

But the seasoned Chinese pair had other plans, and from fourth they jumped to second, knocking out Korea in the process. This upsurge from China put them level with India and scores and the next two shots would decide which medal India would begin their campaign with.

The next couple of shots were perhaps the only blip in an otherwise good match from Kumar and Chandela.

9.7 + 10.6 followed by 9.7 + 9.7, and India claimed the bronze.

It was Kumar’s second Asiad bronze after the 10m air rifle men’s team one at the Incheon 2014 with Bindra and Sanjeev Rajput. It was the first for Chandela.

“It feels really nice to win my first Asian Games medal and also because it is the first medal of the country at the Games. I have a match tomorrow as well so concentrating on that and nothing else at the moment,” she said after the event.

Asked about slipping to third from second, Chandela added: “This happens in shooting. I think we shot alright.”

However, Kumar had more expectation from himself. “This bronze has come only because of Apurvi. The final was a disappointment after a decent qualification. We didnt get enough time to train together,” he said.

Despite the medal start, there is no time to celebrate. This bronze medal is just a trailer, with both their individuals’ rifle events on Monday, but is sure to give both of a huge confidence boost to get another medal in Indonesia.