Rahi Sarnobat (C) after the medal ceremony of the women’s 25m pistol event at the Asian Games 2018 in Palembang, Indonesia, flanked by silver medalist Naphaswan Yangpaiboon (L) of Thailand and bronze medalist Kim Minjung of South Korea (Pic: IANS).
Rahi Sarnobat shot her way into the history books, becoming the first Indian woman to win an individual shooting gold at the Asian Games. While the glare and attention remained firmly on teenage sensation Manu Bhaker (who finished sixth), Sarnobat won gold in the 25m pistol event at Jakarta Panembang 2018, edging out Thailand’s Naphaswan Yangpaiboon in a shoot-off on August 22. The bronze medal went to Kim Minjung of South Korea.
Sarnobat shot an Asian Games record of 34 in the final to earn India its second gold medal from the shooting range. A day before, 16-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary won gold in the 10m pistol.
Sarnobat is the sixth Indian shooter to win gold at the Asiad, joining an elite club which has Chaudhary, Jaspal Rana, Randhir Singh, Jitu Rai and Ronjan Sodhi.
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The final was a tight affair for Sarnobat, especially the contest for gold. It took two shoot-offs to decide the gold medal with the 27-year-old Indian beating Yangpaiboon by a point in the second shoot-off. They were tied on 34 points after the regulation series, and the scores were tied again after the first shoot-off.
Bhaker, meanwhile, got eliminated early in the final round, and finished sixth. The 16-year-old shot a Games Record total of 593 to qualify for the final round as the leading shooter, while Sarnobat was seventh, with 580 points.
From the contrasting way the final unravelled for the two Indian shooters, it is clear that Bhaker, her prodigal talent notwithstanding, has quite a long way to go as far as handling pressure in big finals is concerned.
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She has underwhelmed so far at the Asiad. But at 16, she has age on her side and she can also take heart from her senior, Sarnobat, who herself was a teenage prodigy when she burst into limelight at the 2010 Commonwealth Games where she won two medals -- a gold and a silver.
Sarnobat was 19 then. In subsequent years, she was close to the podium at several tournaments, and has won a few medals as well including gold at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, and a bronze at the Incheon Asian Games the same year.
The high point of her career came in 2013, when she won gold at the ISSF World Cup.
However, injuries have hampered her career of late. Last year, she was completely out of competition with an elbow injury that forced her to change her technique.
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She consulted Munkhbayar Dorjsuren, a two-time world champion and Olympic medallist from Germany. Dorjusuren’s inputs was invaluable for her in the final shoot-offs.
“I had to change her technique and I also worked on her a lot on the mental aspect of the game. She was already a high-level shooter and needed some tweaks in her game. It was a close final but I had prepared her for the shoot-off," Dorjsuren was quoted by the PTI.
Sarnobat seems to have left the testing period behind her with the historic gold at the Asian Games.
Her experience shone through right from the start of the final. She began with a perfect series, taking the lead with a 10 out of 10. She repeated that a couple of series later to take a two-points lead. Sarnobat, however, made a mistake on her 12th attempt that gave Yangpaiboon a chance to catch up. However, the Indian kept her nerves to shoot through towards gold in style.