In the penultimate series of of the 10m air pistol final, Yashashwani Deswal’s concentration broke. It was a crucial shot as only three competitors were left in the final and she had led the final from the beginning. But it was a test of her nerves in the final four shots that would decide the gold medal winner.
Deswal had already won the Olympic quota, India’s second in the category, but she knew a gold medal would be the icing on the cake. But 2004 Olympic champion and world number one Olena Kosteych of Ukraine did not make it easy. She shot a perfect 10.9 to reduce Deswal’s lead to just 0.1 before the final three shots.
But the 22-year-old Indian showed why the new generation of shooters from the country are regarded so highly. She shot a 10.5 to Kosteych’s 9.0 and took a 1.7 point lead. In the end, Deswal claimed her first senior World Cup gold medal with a score of 236.7 in Rio de Janerio on Saturday.
The medal was a long time coming for the former junior world champion. In 2017, Deswal won the junior title in Germany with a world record and was projected to be the next big thing in her category just like Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary.
“My shooting was not bad,” she said. “I have been shooting good scores but the results were not coming. Coming into this World Cup, I did not change any shooting style or technique. It was my day and I knew it will come. Here it is,” Deswal told Scroll.in.
Deswal started shooting in 2012 and even reached the final of the Youth Olympics in 2014. But her first big medal at the senior level came when she won the team gold medal along with Heena Sidhu and Shweta Gwande in the Asian Airgun Championship in Delhi in 2015. The transition from junior to senior level saw her scores drop and for a year, she fell out of the top-three positions in India.
The gold in Rio was even more significant as she had missed out on a medal at 2017’s first World Cup in Mexico after finishing fourth. She failed to reach the final of two more World Cups that she participated in.
But on Saturday, she dominated the field from the beginning. After topping the qualification with a score of 582, Deswal led the final in the elimination series which began after 10 shots. She remained the leader till her final shot of the competition.
Coach of India team in Rio, Ved Prakash Pilanyia explained the reason behind her inconsistent shooting.
“She takes a lot of time between her shots which puts extra pressure on her,” he said. “She cannot shoot her best like that but we are working on that. It’s good that she won the quota with a gold medal.”
Her quota also means the Indian can now have two pairs of mixed teams in 10m air pistol event at the Tokyo Olympics as Bhaker had earned a quota Munich earlier this year.
But the challenge for Deswal remains to keep her spot in the top two spots in the country. Bhaker, Heena Sidhu, Annu Raj Singh, and young Esha Singh will also be eyeing a spot on the Indian team.
Deswal hopes that with an increased concentration and the gold medal will help improve.
“I have been meditating lot but for the last couple of years, it was on and off,” she says. “However, six months ago, I thought I need to improve my score and concentrated more on shooting and meditating. Even before the competition, I was meditating and it has helped me focus well.”