Panipat-born Gagan Narang, the almost-man of Indian shooting, has won his first Olympic medal after 2 heartbreaking campaigns. He is India’s first medalist at the London Games, winning the bronze in the Final Round after qualifying 3rd with a score of 598.
This is India’s third consecutive shooting medal over the last 3 Games- from Rathore’s Silver in Athens to Bindra’s Gold at Beijing.
Over his career, Narang has won several gold and silver medals at shooting World Cups and Games around the world- including an unprecedented 4 golds at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. He has twice held the Qualifying World Record in his pet 10m Air Rifle shooting event, with perfect 600 rounds at Delhi and Bangkok over the years. His final mark of 703.5 at Hannover, Germany was a world record until Zhu Qinan of China broke the mark in 2010.
But Narang, who has consistently outperformed friend and compatriot Abhinav Bindra at Asian Games and World Cup events, has had to play second fiddle- especially after Bindra won the Gold at Beijing in 2008. Over the last few years, despite Bindra’s decline (slipping to 20th in the world), Narang has struggled to seal his supremacy worldwide- but headed into London as the best Indian shooter.
In 2004, Narang finished a disappointing 13th after going into Athens with high confidence and an Afro-Asian Gold to show for. Narang was the outright favorite in Beijing four years later, but missed out on Final qualification by 1 point- a massive upset at that point of time. He ended up finishing 9th to Bindra’s 1st, and that’d have been the story of his life until July 30th, 2012.
On a sunny Monday afternoon in London, in a scintillating qualifying round that saw China’s World Champion Zhu and India’s Bindra crash and burn with sub-596 scores, it was Narang who qualified 3rd behind favorite Campriani from Italy and Alin George Moldoveanu from Romania. If he was to shoot anywhere in the vicinity of his personal best of 703.5, Narang was assured a real chance at Gold. But three sub-10 shots, especially a 9.9 and a 9.5 on his 6th and 7th, proved to be his downfall, though he recovered well with a couple of 10.6s to seal 3rd spot. Campriani choked in the 9th round when he was leading comfortably, with a pathetic 9.4- a shot that cost him the Gold, because Moldoveanu (who finished 4th in Beijing) shot a 10.7 and a 10.4 to finish things off in style with a 702.1. Campriani was understandably disappointed after an average final 2 shots- finishing with 701.5. It was Narang, though, who showed maximum emotion at the finish- after years of underachievement at the Olympics culminated in one final solid performance that earned him a Bronze.
His final score of 701.1 was far from his best, with a 103.1 in the Final round, but a medal is a medal- and India will not have to pin every single hope on Badminton queen Saina Nehwal and young Archer Deepika Kumar.
His parents’ reaction was typically Indian, with a ‘We expected a Gold medal. But he still did a good job’.