Before Tuesday, India had never had two shooters on the podium in the same event at Asian Games. India had only four individual gold medalists in shooting in the history of the Asiad – Jaspal Rana, Randhir Singh, Jitu Rai and Ronjan Sodhi
In a field dominated by shooters from China, Korea and Japan, a gold is always a challenge for Indian shooters at the continental competition. But on Tuesday, 16-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary, exceeded all expectations, upended the odds and tore up the record books for good measure when he won the 10m air pistol gold.
With two shots left in the dramatic final, he was second by a difference of 0.4 points. By the time the last two shots were fired, he had claimed gold by a Games record score of 240.7. Tomoyuki Matsuda’s fluffed his lead when she shot a 8.9 in the penultimate shot and Chaudhary held his nerve to fire a steady 10.2 and 10.4 – a one-point lead to create history.
Abhishek Verma, 29, won the bronze in what was his international debut for India and thereby, first senior competition.
To understand the magnitude of Chaudhary’s gold, it is important to see the shooters the 16-year-old was up against.
Vietnam’s Hoàng Xuân Vinh is the reigning Olympic champion in the event. He didn’t even make it to the final, missing out by a margin a narrow as 2 inners tens.
Korea’s Jin Jingoh, is the current world record holder and is a four-time Olympic and three-time world champion who won his first Asian Games 10m air pistol medal in 2002, the year Chaudhary was born in.
Japan’s Tomoyuki Matsuda, the silver medalist, is a 42-year-old veteran and a former world champion himself. China’s Jiayu Wu won an ISSF World Cup gold earlier this year.
By contrast, this was Chaudhary’s first event at the senior level. The teenager is class XII student, son of a farmer from the Kalina village near Meerut in Uttar Pradesh and has been shooting for only three years, at Amit Sheoran’s academy at Benoli near Baghpat, 53 kilometers from Meerut.
Competition level doesn’t matter
Since breaking into the national team, he has won gold medal at the ISSF world Cup and is a junior world record holder, but he has never been tested against an international field of this caliber. He was not completely aware of the collection of medals his competitors possessed.
But given his performance at the national level in the last one year, it is evident that tough, competitive fields do not faze him.
“I felt no pressure, I don’t think like that. I didn’t think of who I was shooting with, whether they were Olympic champions or world champions, I have to shoot my own game,” he told Scroll.in after his record-breaking feat.
Indeed, shooting his own game, he had left behind Commonwealth Games champion Jitu Rai, another CWG 2018 bronze medallist Om Prakash Mitharval, world No 1 Shahzar Rizvi among other big names to book his spot in India’s Asian Games squad.
In fact, in an almost incredulous turn of history repeating itself, Chaudhary has been in the very same position before against another veteran. At the 2017 KSS Shooting Championship in India, he was trailing Jitu Rai by 0.4 in the men’s 10m air pistol final. Back then he was only 15 and had competed in two more finals on the day, winning silver in the junior and youth event. But with the last two shots to go, Rai had hit 8.4 and Chaudhary capitalised to win a breakthrough gold.
Calm and quiet
It is this same composure he carried to Jakarta as he first topped the qualifications with a brilliant 586 – with three rounds of 99 – and then snatched the lead, and gold, on the penultimate shot.
He was in second place after the first five shots in the final, just 0.1 points behind China’s Wu Jiayu. But he slipped briefly and was tied third on score with Verma. He didn’t let that affect him, a mark of his determined mindset, and recovered to keep his lead, even as the more seasoned shooters faltered. Before the thrilling turn of events on the penultimate shot, Chaudhary had reconciled himself to a silver, he said. It was still a big deal. But then things changed again.
As tough as it is to get into a gold medal position, it is quite as challenging to not mess it up till the final shot is taken. While he had all but secured gold after the Japanese stumbled, he still had to take that final shot and ensure that the moment – the nerves or the anticipation or delight – doesn’t get to him. It is not uncommon to see the script flipped in the heartbeat it takes to fire one shot.
But he took aim and a lead of one whole point to secure a well-deserved gold medal.
“He is a calm and quiet guy, and he showed that he can handle pressure very well,” national junior pistol coach Jaspal Rana, who has trained Chaudhary, said. His composed demeanour was visible on the podium as well, as he heard the national anthem play.
In tune with the words of his junior coach, Chaudhary said that he didn’t feel any pressure, but only focus on his game. It is perhaps the fearlessness of youth, the candid confidence that youngsters possess. But in Chaudhary’s case, it is backed by sharp potential, and now an elusive Asian Games medal as well.