In February this year, Gagan Narang travelled to Kerala for the National Games for a ‘shoot’ of a different kind. Troubled by injuries and his form taking a dip, Narang went to Kerala not as a shooter, but as a shutterbug.
A few weeks later, he was left out of the Indian contingent for the first three World Cups by the National Rifle Association of India in the 10m air rifle category after he failed to record the minimum qualification scored required.
It capped a frustrating start to the year for Narang; more so considering he has endured a lean patch dating back to September last year, when he returned empty handed from the World Championships and the Incheon Asian Games.
On Friday, however, Narang made amends for his recent poor outings and showed glimpses of his old self by clinching the bronze medal in the 50m rifle prone event at the rifle/pistol World Cup at Fort Benning, USA, a feat that also booked an Olympic quota for India.
He shot a qualification score of 626.3 points to enter the final in eighth position. In the final, Narang shot consistently and ensured that India got a third Olympic quota in shooting, scoring a total of 185.8.
Barring two shots in the fourth and eighth series, Narang shot in excess of 10 each time and also managed a perfect shot of 10.9 twice — first in the second series followed by another one in the fourth, which put him in the podium. Needing a 10.5 or more to leapfrog Norway’s Ole Kristian Bryhn and move into the second spot, Narang shot a 9.8 in the eighth series to settle for bronze.
The gold medal was won by USA’s Michael McPhail (208.8 points) with Bryhn (206.3) clinching the silver. The other quota place from the event went to McPhail. Two quota places were on offer in Friday’s final and since Bryhn had already claimed one, Narang was awarded the place.
Jitu Rai (50m pistol) and Apurvi Chandela (10m air rifle) are the two other Indian shooters who have booked quota places for next year’s Rio Games.
On Thursday, Narang, Abhinav Bindra and Jitu Rai had failed to qualify for the final of their respective events.
London Olympics silver medallist Vijay Kumar will have an opportunity to claim another quota place for India on Saturday in the 25m rapid fire pistol.
Heena Sidhu too will be keen to shrug off poor form in the women’s 10m air pistol event and book a quota place.