Rio de Janeiro (Brazil): World number three ranked air pistol shooter Jitu Rai’s meltdown in the finals of the 10-metre event on Saturday was a huge blow to India’s hopes of launching the 31st Olympic Games with a medal on the opening day, where the redeeming feature was a narrow 3-2 victory for the men’s hockey team against debutants Ireland.
Rai did well to recover from some initial blues to strike form and make the final with outstanding marksmanship towards the end of the qualification round. The new shooting rules makes the shooters start the final round with a clean slate, so any poor scores in the qualification round do not matter.
But the new rule was of little benefit to Rai, the 28-year-old Gorkha Rifles soldier, who made his exit from the first elimination round after firing three poor shots in a row to exit with a modest score of 78.7 points.
Vitenam’s Hoang Xuan Vinh (202.5 point) struck gold in the event that was decided on the last shot as he overcame the miniscule margin he had conceded to Brazil’s local favorite Felipe Almeida Wu with a composed final shot. Wu (202.1 points) settled for the silver, while China’s Pang Wei got the bronze.
Rai’s medal aspiration in these Olympic are not over yet. Ranked number two in the world in the 50-metre air pistol event, he will have his change for redemption soon.
A chance to redeem himself will also come the way of Rai’s teammate Gurpreet Singh, who failed to make the final of the 10-metre event. Gurpreet, also an Armyman, finished 20th with 576 points in the qualification round.
Young Apurvi Chandela suffered the pangs that several athletes have experienced in the past. The big stage moment takes a lot from debutants to take the podium at the Olympic Games on their maiden appearance.
Apurvi failed to reproduce the form that had earned her qualification for the Olympics as she finished 34th in the qualification round with a score of 411.6 points in the 10-metre air rifle event.
Her teammate, Ayonika Paul logged 403 points to end in the 47th position. The Rio de Janeiro Olympics have ended for these two girls.
“My mind’s gone blank,” said Apurvi, the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medallist who seemed dejected at her own performance. She was tipped to do much better than her qualification round show.
India’s narrow hockey win the only highlight on a disappointing opening day, and here too India allowed Ireland, playing their first-ever match in the Olympic Games, to come close to equalizing in the last stages.
Despite being confronted with Irish captain David Harte, acknowledged as one of the best goalkeepers in international hockey, India scored all their three goals on penalty corners. V.R. Raghunath opened the scoring in the 15th minute with a low drag flick into the left corner or the goal. Rupinder Pal Singh scored the other two Indian goals through drag flicks in the 27th the 49th minutes, but they were separated by Ireland’s first goal through John Jermyn in the 45th.
Conor Harte then capitalized in goalmouth scrimmage during an Irish penalty corner in the 56th minute and India had to fall back to defend their goal in the last four minute against a resurgent Ireland.
“Three points in the first outing is not what India has been accustomed to for a long time,” said Raghunath, asserting that this was the first match victory in the Olympics for India, who did not qualify in 2008 and suffered embarrassing defeats in all their seven games at the London Olympics in 2012.
The other redeeming feature for India came from lone rower Dattu Bhokanal, who qualified for the final in the Singles Skulls event by finishing third in heats, logging a combined time of 7:21.67 over three distances – 500 metres, 1,000 metres and 1,500 metres.
India’s only women’s weightlifter competing in these Olympics, Mirabai Chanu crashed out of the 48 kg event.
Chanu failed to record a score to her credit as the faltered with all attempt in Clean and Jerk, after lifting 82 kg in Snatch.
Two of India’s three tennis doubles teams made their exit on the opening day.
Sania Mirza, rated as the number one doubles player in the world these days, and her partner Prarthana Thombare, were pushed back by the duo of Peng Shuai and Zhang Shuai after winning the first game through a tiebreaker. The Chinese duo prevailed 6-7 (6), 5-7, 7-5 in an encounter that stretched to two hours and 44 minutes.
Mirza still has to play in the mixed doubles team, where her partner will be Rohan Bopanna. A lot is expected from the Mirza-Bopanna pair.
Bopanna also featured on the losing side in the men’s doubles where he formed a pair with Leander Paes, whose seventh Olympic appearance ended on the first day itself.
It was the Polish pair Lukasz Kubot and Marci Matsowski that prevailed 4-6, 6-7 through some fine tennis against Paes and Bopanna.
In table tennis, the Indian challenge ended in both men and women’s singles event.
In men’s singles, Achanta Sharat Kamal suffered a 8-11, 12-14, 11-9, 6-11, 8-11 loss to Romanian Adrian Crisian, while Soumyajit Ghosh lost 8-11, 6-11, 14-12, 6-11, 11-13 to Thailand’s Padasak Tanviriyavechakul.
In women’s event, Manika Batra was defeated over four sets by Polish Katarzyna Grzybowska-Franc. Manika lost 12-10, 6-11, 12-14, 11-8, 4-11, 12-14. Mouma Das suffered a 2-11, 7-11, 7-11, 3-11 against Daniela Monteiro Dodean of Romania.