Much before the final began, the volunteers in charge of the podium ceremony crisply folded the Tricolour and carefully placed it under the gold medal hanger. They placed another Indian flag under the silver spot and finally kept the Iran flag on the bronze medal position.
It may have been inadvertently done, but you could have forgiven them for assuming that the hosts would have it easy. After all, the shooters from these two countries had dominated the qualifying round. Overall, they accounted for six of the eight finalists. It wasn’t unexpected. Women’s air rifle event was one of the worst-hit events following the mass exodus at the Asian Airgun Championship. None of the continental powerhouses sent their teams except Iran.
What many did not expect is shooters from neither of the two nations finishing on top of the podium. As India’s Ayonika Paul and Iran’s Elaheh Ahmadi indulged in an intriguing battle for medals, Singapore’s Ser Xiang quietly went about her business, shooting high 10s and crawling her way to the top.
The Karni Singh Shooting range has been a happy hunting ground for Xiang. She had won the gold medal at Delhi Commonwealth Games here five years ago, upsetting the applecart. She did the same on Monday en route winning the gold medal with a total of 208.1. Ahmadi finished second with 206.6 points whereas home-favourite Paul clinched bronze medal with a total of 185.
India’s Apurvi Chandela and Pooja Ghatkar too were in the fray but both failed to live up to the hype. Chandela was the first to exit in the final comprising eight shooters while Ghatkar finished fifth.
The women’s final was always going to be a contest between India and Iran. But like the Indian girls, the two Iranians — Narjes Emamgholi and Mahlagha Jambozorg — too could not live up to their reputation.
The initial battle was between Paul and Ahmadi, with the two trading top position on the scoreboard. However, Xiang moved up with some consistent shooting. The 25-year-old held her nerve in the final two shots between her and Ahmadi, as Ahmadi hit 10.4 and 10.5 to put pressure on the Singaporean, who scored 9.9 with her first shot. Needing at least a 9.0 in her final shot to win, Xiang calmly shot a 10.4 to seal victory.
“It was my honour to shoot with the Iranian,” she said of the tense finale. “I have good memories of this place. Delhi 2010 was a memorable experience and I am glad I could repeat the performance here.”
The win will boost Xiang’s confidence ahead of November’s Asian Championships in Kuwait, where she will have a final shot at qualifying for next year’s Rio Olympics. “The standard will be higher because China will be there, so it will be a more exciting competition,” she said. “This competition is a good preparation for me.” Meanwhile, Iran’s Najmeh Khedmati shot a world record total of 208.9 in the junior women’s air rifle event. However, since the event was under-represented, the record did not stand.