In the women’s 10m air rifle final at the Munich World Cup last year, Apurvi Chandela was leading the group of four shooters by 1.1 points. In shooting, that’s a healthy lead. Unless a dramatic collapse, one is expected to win the gold medal with such a lead.
And, the collapse for Chandela happened on the 19th shot. She shot a shocking 5.9 and slipped to the fourth position, missing the bronze medal by a massive difference of 2.2 points.
Saturday, though, was a complete contrast of that day in May last year. On the opening day of the shooting World Cup in New Delhi, Chandela shot a world record 252.9 in the final to win the gold medal and bury the ghost of Munich.
“I am happy that I didn’t let the Munich incident come in the way because these things can play on your mind. Actually, I beat my own self in a way and I am definitely going to take the confidence ahead to motivate me more,” Chandela said after winning the medal.
Disappointment at Rio Olympics
Chandela has been struggling to motivate herself since finishing 34th in the qualifying round of the Rio Olympics. In the lead up to the Olympics, some consistent performances in the international circuit had made her one of India’s best bets for a medal in shooting.
For more than six months after Rio Games, Chandela was disheartened. She, then, took some time off before training again. Her family motivated her along the way as she made her way back into the national team.
“She was really disheartened. She is a person who always keeps to herself and it was difficult for us to know what was going on. But, because we are a family, which understands sports so we gave her the support she needed,” her mother Bindu Rathore said.
Rathore was in the stands at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting range on Saturday to support her daughter, who had called her on Friday night to be present for the final.
“Thank God I travelled from Jaipur for this. I am watching this kind of final after a long time,” she says.
Rathore is correct. Chandela is considered to be a shooter, who’s successful in the qualifying rounds but struggles in the finals.
Despite slow start in the final on Saturday, which saw her at the seventh position after the first series, Chandela picked up pace and shot four consecutive 10.5 before finishing the series with 10.7.
“The start wasn’t the best but the way she finished was world class. She shot more than 10.5 in most shots. She has been struggling in the final but in the last three-four months, we have been working to keep her calm and she has improved,” coach Manpat says.
Chandela admitted she was nervous when she topped the standings.
“Earlier I used to take less time to shoot, but now my technique has changed a little. I take a little longer now. When I came to know that I was in the top, I did have a bit of nerves, but I was asking myself to stay a bit calm and that it’s just a matter of a few more shots,” she says.
The next few shots turned out to be the Chandela’s best in recent times. After the first four shots of the elimination round, she was at the third position. She jumped to second with 10.8 and 10.6. Another pair of 10.6 shots surged her to the top spot. She, then, consolidated the lead with 10.8 and 10.6. She finished with a pair of 10.5 shots to claim the gold medal.
“This medal is at the top in importance along with the gold medal from Glasgow Commonwealth Games. I think this is my second best performance,” she says.
The Commonwealth Games performance was, however, in the older format. The International Shooting Sport Federation increased the number of series in qualifying from four to six. Chandela’s coach Manpat had to develop a new training regime to prepare her for the new format.
“You have to change and adapt because of the format,” he says. “When the six series came, she was struggling with concentration and fatigue crept in. We had to work on that solely first.
“Working on the qualification score became more important and we tried improving in that first before shifting our focus to the finals. You cannot be a good qualifying shooter and [be average] in the finals.”
On Saturday, Chandela’s score fell in the fifth and the sixth series. She ultimately qualified at the fourth spot with a score of 628.3 points, 5.7 less than Zhao Ruozhu, who broke the qualifying world record with 634.
But a few words from Manpat between the qualifying and final relaxed her. “It was about staying calm because which is one of her weak points but she has been working hard on it.”
“We focused only on improving the score in the qualification throughout the 2017 and early 2018. Once we were satisfied that she was achieving good score, we shifted to improving her score in the final,” he says.
That improvement was visible as Chandela gave India the perfect start at the World Cup.