It was always going to be a case of when — not if — would the Indian shooters book Rio Olympics berth in the women’s air rifle events. Four years ago, when country’s marksmen were gradually making progress in most other events, the growth in women’s air rifle seemed to have stagnated. The category was seen as Achilles’ heel, especially after they failed to qualify for the London Olympics.
However, Apurvi Chandela ensured the trend reversed after she produced a gritty performance to clinch the bronze in women’s 10m air rifle at the Changwon World Cup in South Korea on Saturday. More importantly, her podium finish earned India its second Olympic quota in shooting, after Jitu Rai had clinched a place in 50m free pistol last year.
Chandela, 22, is among the crop of young shooters who have been impressive in the last couple of years. The reigning national champion won the Commonwealth Games gold last year in Glasgow, which was her first major medal, despite tearing a ligament the night before her event. Her performance in Glasgow was a testimony to her mental strength, and on Saturday, she once again showed her ability to deliver under pressure. In a strong field of eight shooters that also included Beijing Olympics bronze medallist Snjezana Pejcic of Croatia, Chandela shot a score of 185.6 to finish third after qualifying in fifth position for the final.
Three Rio berths were up for grabs in Saturday’s final. Pejcic — who won the gold medal with a dominating performance — had already earned a quota, which gave the three next-best finishers a chance to claim the slots.
Apurvi was involved in a tense battle for the third position with Sweden’s Michaela Arvidsson. With Apurvi shot 9.7 and 9.9 in fourth and fifth series, which helped Arvidsson nudge ahead by 0.5 points. In the elimination shots that followed, the Swede returned the favour by shooting 9.7 followed by a 10.1. Apurvi held her nerves and shot a brilliant 10.6 and 10.4 to overturn her deficit and in the process oust her opponent.
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“A World Cup medal was something that I have been aiming for a long time, and now that I have it, it really makes me very happy. What adds on to the happiness is winning the second quota place for my country for the Rio Olympics,” she said.
Barring Chandela’s performance, there wasn’t much for India to cheer about on the second day. Rai, Prakash Nanjappa, Rahi Sarnobat, Annu Raj Singh and Anisa Sayyed missed an opportunity to win quota places. Rai finished a disappointing 21st in men’s 50 metre pistol qualification, while Nanjappa was placed 28th with Om Prakash at 38th. In the 25-metre women’s pistol qualification, Sarnobat was 20th, Annu Raj 43rd and Anisa a lowly 52nd.
India will be hoping for another quota place on Sunday in the men’s 50m rifle prone, where Gagan Narang impressed in the qualifying round on Saturday. Each country can win a maximum of 30 quota places from a total of 15 shooting disciplines, two each from each discipline. After the ongoing event, the rifle/pistol shooters have three more World Cups and an Asian Championships to secure qualification.