Rio Olympics 2016: Gagan Narang is the last man standing in India's quest for a shooting medal
If there is still something left in this Olympics to watch out for as far as the Indian shooting contingent is concerned, we probably have Laszlo Szuscak to thank for it. The Hungarian, who had been associated with Indian shooting for three stints over three decades was the man who had drilled into Gagan Narang the importance of taking part in all three air rifle events after his Athens miss in the 10m air rifle.
Over the past one week, in two out of those three events, 10m air rifle and 50m rifle prone, have gone and along with them a bag of hopes and expectations that the Indian shooters carried to Rio. But thanks to Szuscak, it isn’t over yet as one of India’s most decorated shooters is still to take his aim in the 50m rifle three positions.
Until ten days ago, India looked good to have at least three medalists in shooting alone. Jitu Rai’s rise through the ranks over the last few years had inspired great confidence. Besides, Abhinav Bindra is a man in a different league and can never be discounted no matter whatever his form was in the run up to the event. For different reasons, none of them could lay their hands on a medal that the media told was theirs for the taking.
As things stand, Gagan Narang is the last man standing for India in shooting and for a medal thirsty population of a billion and more, he can overturn the ‘massive disappointment’ judgment that the media has passed on the shooting contingent with a win in his last remaining event.
However, the list of things that stand against Narang from clinching a medal here today is long. The 33-year-old is far from being a favourite in the event despite his 2014 Commonwealth Games showing which brought him a Bronze. In fact, the event too isn’t exactly his favorite and he minced no words about it after his disappointment in the 50m Rifle Prone. Referring to today’s event, he had said, “I have another event but that's not my main event (3P). However, if I have a good day, I will go through." The Chennai born ranks 42nd in the ISSF ranking, which is seven positions below Chain Singh who will be seen in action too in the same event today.
After two events where he looked all good at one point to make the finals before blowing it away, his confidence won’t be at its highest either. The way things panned out in the 50m Rifle Prone event on Friday would crush anyone’s spirits. Just when it looked Narang would sail into the finals, one after another of his last four shots betrayed him to shatter his dream once again.
He looked understandably rattled post his ouster as he told the media, "This (50 metres Rifle Prone) was the event I was playing for. I had a good feeling about it. I gave it my best. I tried really hard by the last four shots went wrong. I will have to find out what happened. I will have to play it in my mind again and see where I went wrong."
Tough end to the events for Narang
With Narang, the finishing has been a problem that he has wrestled with right from his first Olympics in Athens. In 2004, participating in the 10m Air Rifle event, Narang was on track before an uncharacteristic 8.9 pulled him down. Since there was no decimal scoring in place then, Narang’s shot was registered as 8 and he finished with a score of 593. Two shooters who had 594 had qualified for the Finals whereas Narang’s costly miss pushed him down to 12th in the qualifiers and crushed his dreams of making it to the finals. In Beijing too, his 49th shot in the 60 shot qualification was 8.9 that again destroyed his chances. Despite being one of the five shooters finishing on the same score, Narang was the only one who didn’t qualify for the final.
The mood in the shooting camp too is far from upbeat at the moment after a drastic change of fortunes over a period of just one week. Rai, Bindra and Narang himself, the crash at the Olympics were heartbreaking and of the sort you can’t easily take your mind off. At this point, the morale needs more than just a boost and Narang, the battle hardened veteran that he is, will be expected to break this gloom.
Despite this event not being the shooter’s forte, expect his will to win to guide him towards something special today. Narang has to exhibit a mental toughness that hasn’t been put on show by most of the shooting contingent. He will need to overcome his own as well his contingent’s disappointments of the last week. More than anything, if he can finish well here, and by finishing well we mean a position on the podium, he can finally put to rest his demons of not able to finish well that have stalked him across different continents over last four Olympics.Modified 20 Dec 2019, 07:47 IST