Shooting is the most successful sport for India at the Olympic Games, second after only hockey. The country’s first and only individual Olympic gold has come in this discipline - when Abhinav Bindra won the 10m air rifle at Beijing 2008. Four years later, at London 2012, there were two shooting medals for India and now, by 2021, India has one of the strongest continents with multiple Asian Games and World Cup medal winners.
The start of this success story, at the Olympics at least, can partially be traced back to one event – Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s silver medal in double trap at the 2004 Athens Olympics. It was India’s only medal in the 2004 Athens Games; the last edition that saw India return with a single medal.
It was India’s first-ever individual silver medal at the Games and the first medal in shooting, a sport India was not traditionally good at. It was only at the preceding 2000 Sydney Olympics that Anjali Bhagwat had become the first Indian shooter to qualify for finals. Thus the Army man’s triumph – as the first silver – was then seen as a source of inspiration to many, including Bindra himself.
“Rathore changed me. His silver ensured that gold became my possibility,” the former Olympic champion, who was one of just three Indian shooters to reach the final in Athens, said.
Bindra’s gold, of course, opened the floodgates for Indian shooting and it has been, with the exception of the Rio Olympics, on a consistent high since.
In 2004, Rathore was an unassuming Olympian who had taken up shooting very late in life after joining the Indian Army and serving on the frontlines. But he had built a solid resume and was ranked No 3 in the world. Before that, he had won the gold at the Commonwealth Games and had medals at the World Cup and World Championship before but his level of training was not like how it is today.
On the August day in Athens though, Rathore was in good touch. In double trap, which has now been discontinued as an Olympic sport, one has to shoot two clay targets released simultaneously.
In the qualification round, he shot 135 out of 150 and was placed fifth among the six finalists. He shot 46 out of 50 in his first preliminary round but was under pressure after a poor second round with just 43 points. But he came back strong in the third with 46 points in a very competitive field and reached the final.
The qualification score was not the best since back then, those points were added to the final round to decide the winner. The Indian though showed great fight to make up for the qualification round dip and win silver with his last shot.
In the final, Rathore finished with a total of 179 out of 200 – scoring a terrific 44 under pressure. UAE’s Shaikh Ahmed Almaktoum, who had qualified with an Olympic record of 144, was already a frontrunner for the gold medal and clinched it with 45 points in the final. The real test was the silver and bronze medal battle between Rathore and China’s Wang Zheng.
If only the final scores would have been counted as per the new rules, Rathore would have been comfortably placed on silver. But back then, it was a matter of one shot. On his last attempt, he had to hit both targets to try for a silver. And he did just that, in a manner so calm and collected that the nickname ‘Chilly’ stuck with him.
He later said, “I may have appeared calm inside, but I was dying a thousand deaths out there.”
But on the shotgun range and on the podium, he epitomised the poise of a serving member of the Indian Armed Forces.
“I reached the final two shots and I knew that if I nailed these two shots the Olympic silver is ours. At this point of time instead of fear coming in there was an immense amount of aggression coming in, and controlled aggression coming in. I said to myself, this has to be a perfect process. I shot the first target and my eyes shifted to the next target and bang, I shot that as well,” Rathore said while recounting his medal.
Here’s a look at the Olympic final that changed Indian sport
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