By Sunday night, Jitu Rai simply could not control his excitement. The noisy corridor outside his room, in which he was desperately trying to get some sleep, buzzed with frenzied celebrations as the Indian 10m rife and pistol medallists celebrated their glory. Rai’s roommate, Gurpal Singh — a man who bagged silver in the 50m air pistol — says he spent almost half an hour calming Rai down, telling him his time would come soon.
“I was almost jumping with excitement. It was as if I wanted to go to the range right away and start shooting. I had seen all the other shooters come to the hotel with medals around their neck, celebrating their victories, I needed a medal of my own too,” he says.
The 27-year-old got his medal just 12 hours later, that too in stunning fashion. Tallying a score of 562 out of 600 in qualifying, Rai set a new Commonwealth Games record, topping the standings. In the final, he went one better, scoring a phenomenal 194.1 to clinch gold. Such was Rai’s dominance in the final that bronze medallist Daniel Repacholi of Australia lagged behind by a whopping 27.1 points in the final standings.
But Rai’s first Commonwealth gold medal drew a rather understated response from the shooter. Having become the first Indian to win two medals in an ISSF World Cup, Rai said that he had always been confident of taking home a medal here.
“Since the World Cup medals, my confidence has really increased. I trained keeping a medal as the only goal. When I finished my qualification, I kind of had an idea that the gold was well within my reach. My eye was set, rhythm was good and the excitement of the night before was just helping everything else fall into place,” he says.
A Naib-Subedar in the 11 Gurkha Regiment, Rai who was born in Sankhusawa in Nepal, but calls India his home ever since shifting his base in 2006. “Whatever I am today is because of India. I may have been born in Nepal, but all that I have achieved till now is thanks to my own hard work and this country,” he says.
The fourth brother of five siblings, Rai’s father also served in the Gurkha Regiment. Three of his brothers are in foreign countries, working odd jobs while his mother cultivates rice on a small patch of terraced land that the family holds in his native village.
Though 2014 has been Rai’s breakthrough year, he is currently the top-ranked shooter in the 10m air pistol event and number four in the world in the 50m air pistol. Rai has won three World Cup medals this year, claiming one gold and two silvers at Munich and Maribor. However, before finding such a thick vein of form, life as a competitive shooter had not always been that easy.
“I was sent back twice from the AMU (Army Marksmanship Unit) at Mhow. I was sent back in 2007, barely a year after joining the army. I returned in 2008 but then again I was sent back due to non-performance after just a year. Those two rejections definitely played on my mind,” he says.
A first for Gurpal
Meanwhile, for the 34-year-old Gurpal, the silver is his first international medal. “I have waited a very long time for this medal. I have been participating in international shooting competitions but for some reason or the other, a medal has always eluded me,” he said.
On Monday, though, the medal was always going to be his after a strong showing in the final took him to a gold medal shoot-off against Jitu Rai. “I did not have the greatest of qualifications. I finished sixth but then coach Smirnov (Pavel) told me to relax, think about all our training sessions and just release my shots,” he says.
Singh, a Naib-Subedar with the 10 Jammu & Kashmir Rifles, took silver after posting a score of 187.2 in the final.