Ayonika Paul wins silver, grabs Olympic spot

World Cup medallist Ayonika Paul rose to the challenge brilliantly to clinch the Olympic quota place in women’s air rifle in the Asia Olympic qualifying shooting competition at the Dr. Karni Singh Range, Tughlakabad, on Friday.

Ayonika Paul (in picture) and Pooja Ghatkar won the silver and the bronze medals respectively in the 10m air rifle.   -  PTI (File Photo)

World Cup medallist Ayonika Paul rose to the challenge brilliantly to clinch the Olympic quota place in women’s air rifle in the Asia Olympic qualifying shooting competition at the Dr. Karni Singh Range, Tughlakabad, on Friday.

The 23-year-old M. Tech student from Mumbai, who had kept her books away for some time and trained diligently with Olympic finalist Suma Shirur, missed the gold on the shoot-off 9.9 to 10.1 to Najmeh Khedmati of Iran, the reigning Asian Games gold medallist. However, Ayonika had done well to ensure the Olympic quota by then. She had shot 9.9 on the last of the 20 shots in the final in being tied, after having led by 0.5 point on the penultimate shot, as she had subconsciously relaxed her grip after the intense competition.

It was a memorable afternoon for the host, as Asian champion Pooja Ghatkar and Ayonika made a concerted effort by staying in the lead throughout the final, in attacking the lone quota that India was eligible to win in the event. Apurvi Chandela had won a quota earlier.

Pooja, who had regained the lead after slumping a bit midway, messed up her chances for a better medal as well as the quota, with an 8.8, on the 18th shot. She was quite relaxed through the qualifying event and the final, but there was no doubt that Ayonika was intense in her concentration and sharp with her execution of a better fare.

It was ironic that Ayonika had to wait till the last moment to win quota, when she could have won it first. After shooting a top class score of 420.8 in qualification, Ayonika had placed eighth in the World Championship in 2014 when six quota places were presented. In that season, she placed fourth in the World Cup Final. She had to endure a below par season in 2015 in the four World Cups, before turning things around in the nick of time, in the Olympic year.

Seven of eight finalists eligible for Olympic quota

It was some task, as seven of the eight finalists were eligible to get the quota, as Iran had already won the maximum possible two in the event. Three Singaporeans were in the final, led by Jasmine Ser Xiang Wei, but did not make it to the top four. When one of them, Ho Xiu Yi finished fifth, it confirmed a quota for India, and Lee Eunseo of Korea, who eventually placed fourth.

The third quota in the ongoing competition for the host, after the ones won by Heena Sidhu and Kynan Chenai, took India’s tally to 11 for the Rio Games.

In 50-metre free pistol, in which India had already won the two quota places through Jitu Rai and Prakash Nanjappa, there was a lively fare from the Delhi Commonwealth Games triple gold medallist Omkar Singh, who ended up fourth.

With Jitu Rai opting out following abdominal surgery, Commonwealth Games hero of 2006 Samaresh Jung got a chance to shoot the MQS, his first international competition in the current Olympic cycle, and he did well to shoot 552.

Two-time World champion, Tomoyuki Matsuda of Japan, who had already won the quota place, took the gold with a supreme performance as he overwhelmed Kim Song Guk and Kim Jong Su of the Peoples Republic of Korea, who bagged the two Olympic quota places in the event.

It was a fine gesture by Matsuda, and a sterling example of the Japanese team spirit, as he waited for more than ten minutes to shoot his last two shots in the qualification phase, as he gauged whether the third Japanese had a chance to make the final and fight for the second quota. In the event, the second Japanese, Seiji Morikawa placed seventh, while Korijo Horimizu missed the final by two points with a 549, after which Matsuda shot his last two shots in the last minute.

The results:

Men: 50m free pistol: 1. Tomoyuki Matsuda (Jpn) 191.6 (562); 2. Kim Song Guk (PRK) 185.8 (560); 3. Kim Jong Su (PRK) 166.8 (557); 4. Omkar Singh 147.0 (556); 27. Jai Singh 541; 30. Prakash Nanjappa 534. MQS: Samaresh Jung 552; Gurpal Singh 541.

Women: 10m air rifle: 1. Najmeh Khedmati (Iri) 205.9 (10.1) 418.0; 2. Ayonika Paul 205.9 (9.9) 416.6; 3. Pooja Ghatkar 184.5 (415.6); 13. Elizabeth Susan Koshy 413.6. MQS: Anjali Bhagwat 413.1; Shriyanka Sadangi 412.5