A pleasant surprise!

In the final, Vijay Kumar came out with his best as he beat Klimov and Ding Feng of China to the silver.

Vijay Kumar... simple but effective.   -  PTI

He is the people’s champion, simple and humble.

Vijay Kumar clenched his fists in celebration after winning the silver medal. There was no drama. He was calm even while he was shooting at five targets in four seconds, eight times in the final. He looked like a seasoned champion in a nerve-wracking contest.

He readily posed with the national flag, when requested, before the medal ceremony. Even after the victory, he was as polite as ever. The Olympic silver medal hung lightly around his neck.

> Vijay Kumar: Player Profile

The 26-year-old Vijay Kumar, a bachelor, does not have a degree from any University. But the Army subedar from Himachal Pradesh is a master in the art of shooting. It was a brilliant fare from the young man, who was the dark horse in the Indian shooting squad.

He had shot 573, 578 and 579 in the three World Cups in the season, and had shot 577 in the Asian Championship in Doha to be placed seventh. Even after qualifying for the Olympics, Vijay kept a completely low profile, befitting his image.

In such a context, to shoot 585 and qualify for the final in the men’s 25m rapid fire pistol was in itself an achievement. The qualification scores, in this event, were not added to the final — as was done in all other shooting events and hence this 585 was of no use to Vijay in the final.

In fact, it suited Vijay. In the knock-out final, Vijay was the only shooter to start with a perfect five like the World champion Alexei Klimov, who erased his own world record in the Games with a 592 in the qualification.

In the final, Vijay came out with his best as he beat Klimov and Ding Feng of China to the silver, while the unheralded Leuris Pupo of Cuba stayed four points ahead with a consistent show, after having started with a three.

It may be recalled that in the London World Cup this season, which served as a test event before the Olympics, Klimov and Ding Feng had won the gold and silver at the same venue, the Royal Artillery Barracks, where Vijay finished 23rd.

In winning the silver medal in his first Olympics, Vijay has emulated Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore who did it in Athens 2004 in double trap.

Vijay had won a silver medal in the 2009 World Cup in Beijing. But that was in a different format. He had also finished fourth in the World Cup final that year. He beat three of the top four performers of the last Olympic cycle who had won dozens of world class medals.

"In the new format you have to shoot 40 shots in the final, as compared to 20 in the earlier one," said Vijay Kumar.

It was great for the spectators as they did not have to calculate the decimal numbers. It is a simple matter of hit or miss in the final, with one point for the hit. Once the Cuban confirmed his gold with an unbeatable lead of 34, Vijay shot two, but claimed that he had executed the shots in the normal way.

Rapid fire may be his forte, but Vijay is an all-round shooter as he has won Asian Games medals in air pistol and centre-fire pistol. Quite interestingly, the only rapid fire pistol medal that he had won in the Asian Games was when he finished fourth in Doha in 2006. Since the rules did not allow offering all three medals to the Chinese then, Vijay was presented the medal!

In this event, he has been dominating in the national championship for quite sometime, though he lost the honour in the last edition in Pune. He, however, was a class act in the Commonwealth Games at home when he won three gold medals. In the last Asian Championship in Doha, Vijay won the standard pistol gold. It was generally felt that he would fare better if he had focused more on the rapid fire pistol. But Vijay has proved everyone wrong, and has established that variety can make one a better shooter.

A fine student of the game, Vijay capitalised on the knowledge and training methods of the Russian coach Pavel Smirnov who had been specially hired by the Army.

There was pressure and there was nervousness, but Vijay kept things simple and handled the biggest stage with resolve and poise. “I dedicate this medal to the whole of India,’’ said Vijay.

Life will change for Vijay after the Olympic medal, but he will not change from being a simple man.

(This article was published in the Sportstar issue dated August 18, 2012)