Palembang : Rahi Sarnobat on Tuesday became the first Indian female shooter to win a gold medal at the Asian Games, achieving the rare feat by holding her nerve in a gripping 25m air pistol final which was decided by two shoot-offs, here.
The 27-year-old Deputy Collector from Kolhapur pipped Thailand’s Naphaswan Yangpaiboon in a heart-stopping contest after both were tied at 34 points following 10 series of five shots each, taking it to a shoot-off. Both found the target four times in the first shoot-off, leading to another where Rahi shot three and the Thai managed two, ensuring a historic gold for the Indian. The bronze went to South Korea’s Kim Minjung.
Rahi was in the lead for the major part of the final and her first 10 shots were on target. She got a five out five even in the sixth series. With her stellar effort, Rahi became the second gold medallist from the Indian shooting contingent after 16-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary fetched top honours in the 10m air pistol finals on Tuesday.
She is also the sixth Indian to shoot a gold at the Games, joining Chaudhary, Jaspal Rana, Randhir Singh, Jitu Rai and Ronjan Sodhi. Her 34 in the finals also ended up as a joint Games Record.
The talented Manu Bhaker, however, cracked under pressure to finish sixth in the finals. The 16-year-old had a remarkable morning as she shot 593 to equal the Games qualification record. Rahi had sneaked into the finals in seventh place, shooting 580.
Rahi, who had become India’s first pistol shooter to win a World Cup gold back in 2013, had not won a major medal since the Commonwealth Games gold in 2014. An elbow injury which she picked up even before Glasgow set her back for the next two years.
Realising that she needed a tweak in her technique, Rahi roped in Munkhbayar Dorjsuren, two-time world champion and Olympic medallist from Germany. “I had to change her technique and I also made her work on the mental aspect of the game. She was already a high-level shooter and needed some tweak in her game. It was a close final but I had prepared her for the shoot-off,” Dorjsuren said.
The Mongolian-German coach also knows the legendary Gabriele Buhlmann well. Buhlmann had coached Abhinav Bindra to India’s only individual Olympic gold medal in 2008. “She has achieved a lot so her attitude towards competition and performance is really different and that matters a lot. More than the technical things, these things matter,” said Rahi.
Rahi is also double gold medallist at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and had a bronze in the 25m pistol pairs event at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.
Bhaker, however, could not recreate the form she showed in the qualification. The 16-year-old is now left with her main event, 10m pistol, having disappointed in the mixed team event with Abhishek Verma earlier.
In the women’s Rifle 3 Positions event, Anjum Moudgil and Gayathri Nithyanandam failed to qualify for the final. Moudgil had a great start to the qualification but flopped in the standing series to bow out of the competition.
Rahi fell just short of saying that Wednesday’s performance would not have been possible if it was not for Dorsjuren. “It is like a mother-daughter relationship. Her daughter is nearly my age. We have been together for almost a year,” said Rahi, who rushed to hug Dorsjuren after winning a tense shoot-out in the final. The coach kissed her in return.
Dorsjuren has instilled a champion mindset in Rahi and it was on full display with the Pune-resident not giving up till the final shot.
After taking a seven-month break in 2016, she had to try something different. In came Dorsjuren but she came at a huge price. “I came to know that she retired after 25 years of her career. We had one trial training camp in July last year. After that I decided to hire her as personal coach. Of course she is expensive and I can’t afford her with the salary I get.
“I have been getting support from OGQ but that is also not enough. So I have been using the cash awards I got after winning in Glasgow,” said the soft-spoken shooter, who hopes to be in the central government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme.
Rahi was taken aback when she was told that she had become the first female from India to win a shooting gold at Asian Games. But this medal was extremely important for her, having also undergone a laparoscopic surgery earlier this year. “This was important for me to open my mind. It has taken me to the time I was winning medals,” said the Kolhapur-born who is now eyeing an Olympic quota place in the upcoming World Championships.
Next stop is the Worlds in Changwon in South Korea, the place where she won her only World Cup gold, back in 2013. “I hope Changwon is lucky for me again.”
50 lakh cash award for Rahi
The Maharashtra government on Wednesday announced a cash award of Rs 50 lakh for Rahi. “I am happy to announce that Maharashtra Government will give Rs 50 lakh to the gold medal winners, Rs 30 lakh to silver medal winners and Rs 20 lakh to bronze medal winners of AsianGames 2018 from Maharashtra,” Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis tweeted.