Two gold, three silver and two bronze medals – that’s what the ranges rewarded the Indian shooters with on Wednesday, the most productive so far in both quality and quantity as India’s Asian Games medal tally climbed to 22 on the seventh day of competition here.
Coming across the board in every event – rifle, pistol and shotgun – it also pushed India’s shooting tally to 12 medals with four more days to go.
While Esha Singh took silver in the 25m fire pistol, Anantjeet Singh Naruka went one better on the legendary Karni Singh (bronze in 1974) to get India’s first-ever silver and only the second medal in skeet.
Ashi Chouksey added a third medal to her name with a bronze in the 50m 3-position. But the day belonged to Sift Kaur Samra.
The first and, so far, the only individual gold medalist for India at the 19th Asian Games with a new Asian, Asian Games and World record in the process, the 22-year-old is in a ‘happy’ place.
“I think I can be called a ‘happy shooter’. I am not very calculative, I don’t think during competition but then again I am thinking about the process, focussing on my technique like the coaches told me.
“The one time I actually got the thought in my mind that maybe this might be a record, I shot a 9 so then I just pulled myself back into the present and not think,” she laughed.
It is Sift’s first-ever Asian Games gold medal, in 50m 3-position, and only the second for Indian women in 37 years since Soma Dutta took silver in 1986, the first time when men and women competed separately.
That it came with a new World Record (469.6 points), bettering the previous one by Britain’s Seonaid McIntosh by a massive 2.6 points makes it special.
Sift did so with the kind of dominance not often seen in the sport, leading all the way once she leapt to the top at the end of the kneeling round. While others have slipped under pressure, Sift only kept consolidating her position as the competition progressed.
“I actually did not know it was a world record. Feels exciting to have won gold and with a WR, especially in China, it feels pretty good,” she said.
“I have been training here and had come for the World University Games recently so I knew what kind of noise they make and I was prepared for it. In fact, noise from the rival supporters only motivates me further.”
Chouksey, meanwhile, had a roller-coaster final and came within a shot of silver before faltering on the last attempt. A series of low nines had her pegged at seventh position at the end of the kneeling round before the 21-year-old from Bhopal fought back brilliantly in prone to climb to tied second.
Going into the bronze medal shot with a 1.1-point advantage over China’s Qiongyue Zhang, Ashi could only manage a lowly 8.9.
“Yes I was very nervous going into the last shot and missed my temperament, I don’t know what I was feeling or thinking and I missed my timing. So I took a break and when I picked up the rifle again, only 3-4 seconds were left so I just pressed the trigger,” Ashi said.
“But I am not disappointed, I am very proud to get an individual medal on such a platform. Yes, I could have done better but it is the learning from the sport I get to do better next time.”
For someone who had only begun shooting after the previous edition in 2018, it has been a quick rise up the ranks for Ashi. And while she loves the kneeling position, she admits her strongest suit is prone.
“What usually happens with me is that my heartbeat is really fast in the beginning so my kneeling wasn’t as good as I expected,” she said. The two had earlier combined with Manini Kaushik to win the team silver.
If the rifles boomed with medals, the pistol girls were not to be left behind with the 25m team clinching gold and Esha Singh taking home a silver as well for her efforts.
At 19, the baby of the team, Esha has enough experience behind her, having started early at the age of nine when her father Sachin took her to the Gun For Glory academy.
With her father, and mentor Gagan Narang, cheering from the stands, Esha shot a series of steady rounds to stay in medal contention all through.
“It feels surreal, to be honest, winning two medals in my first Asian Games, it’s not something I had expected. My coach Ved Prakash has helped me a lot with technical fine-tuning and Ronak (Pandit) sir in the camp has been very supportive along with NRAI and my sponsors,” Esha said.
“I am fortunate to come from a family that is into sports and grateful to have a father who understands it. I cannot say whether it is an advantage because I have never been in a family that hasn’t supported sports but for me, my father is the one always pushing me.”
For skeet shooter Naruka, who also combined with Angad Vir Singh Bajwa and Gurjoat Singh Khangura for a skeet team bronze, the medal was yet to sink in.
“It feels amazing, it’s unreal. It was one of my best days of shooting and the experience was amazing. It was superb and actually fun. I was breaking the target and slowly I was like, ‘OK, maybe I can win one medal and maybe I can win another one (in the team event)’. I got my rhythm and I was breaking the targets, it was fun,” a beaming Naruka said.
“We got the team medal as well, we are all very young and we are all pumped up because of the medal and we look forward to the next competition.”
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