Suhl: It was a gold medal that moved even the impassive Jaspal Rana to tears. And 17-year-old Sarabjot Singh's victory in the men's 10m air pistol event on Thursday at the Junior Shooting World Cup in Suhl put a smile on the considerable Indian contingent present in the German city of Suhl.
The youngest competitor in the eight-man final, Sarabjot shot 239.6 to claim gold and help maintain India's position atop the medals tally at the World Cup with 22 medals, nine of which are golds. Had Sarabjot faltered, there were two Chinese shooters " Zhehao Wang, who ended up with silver, and bronze-medallist Shichang Lu " who could have taken gold and tied India in gold medals atop the standings. China ended Thursday with 22 medals, seven of which are golds.
"This gold matters a lot to us. We have been beating the Chinese for the last few years in this World Cup, and they were very close on our tails," India's junior shooting chief coach Rana told Firstpost.
Just how much the medal mattered became obvious when Rana openly sobbed while hugging Sarabjot after his final. The shooting legend has preferred to stand in the background when other Indian pistol shooters competed in their finals, but was sitting right behind Sarabjot during his final. Rana also could not resist himself from punching the air in jubilation after the 21st competition shot when Sarabjot shot a 9.1 but Lu could only manage an 8.2, allowing the Indian to open up a 1.7 gap on the top of the leaderboard.
"I wasn't trying to hide my tears. It was a natural reaction to a special gold medal. The pressure on him to perform in the final was intense and when I saw his reaction after the final, I couldn't control myself," said Rana.
Sarabjot, who recently won a gold medal in the Asian Airgun Championships, was imperious in the opening stage of the final, even opening up a 4.1 lead over the pursuing Shichang after 17 shots. But the next three shots " 9.7, 8.4, 9.6 " allowed the Chinese shooter to claw back the lead to just 0.8.
"In a final, everything is possible. But despite those poor shots, he kept his cool to deliver gold. He's a calm and composed guy. What was impressive is how he fought his own battle in the final when you cannot talk to your coach," said Rana, who added that he was not happy with the teenager's performance in qualification where he sneaked into the final on the last shot.
Sarabjot's gold also ensured that India did not miss the services of prodigious teenager Saurabh Chaudhary, whose mercurial performances have seen him being fast-tracked into the senior pistol team.
Rana, however, urged caution while dealing with teenage shooters like Sarabjot.
"For these young shooters, a lot of protection is required. When they're in the junior side, they're protected. They live a controlled life. But once they make it into the senior ranks, they're like free birds. There's so much money and fame being given to them that it makes them lose focus. We need to protect them from that."
The writer is in Germany as part of the Robert Bosch Media Ambassadors Program.