Divyansh Singh Panwar, all of 17, defied age when he clinched the gold medal in the 10m air rifle event at the ISSF World Cup final in Putian (China) on Thursday.
Panwar, who shot a score of 627.1 in qualification, edged out defending World Cup final champion Peni Istvan of Hungary by 0.1 point. But it was not the first time the teenager had excelled at the top level.
He had secured India's first Olympic quota in 10m Air rifle with a silver medal at the ISSF Beijing World Cup in April, and had been competing in the Minimum Qualification Score (MQS) category for the last three months as the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) sent other shooters for the year's last World Cup in Brazil and the Asian Championships in Doha.
Deepak Kumar secured the second quota for India in the event at the latter event. Thursday was the first time in three months that Panwar returned to top competition.
“Being so young and able to shoot in world-class competition shows Divyansh's strength. But on the other hand, the same enthusiasm and the abundance of talent can hamper such a shooter's confidence while competing in MQS,” Panwar's coach Deepak Kumar Dubey, who has mentored him since 2015, said.
At first, he was a bit dismayed at the setbacks. But he didn’t lose his belief. “Initially, he was bit disappointed as it took out the feel of competition but once he realised that it was done to improve chances of other Indian shooters to secure the quota, he understood. During training and MQS, his scores would be better than the qualification and finals. Today's gold medal is a proof to his ability and desire to face the world's best shooters and win.”
In Beijing, Panwar had a qualification score of 629.2 to qualify in third spot for the eight-man final, where he tallied 249 to claim the silver medal behind home shooter Zicheng Hui of China. A month later, Panwar shot 627.6 to be placed 31st in qualification at the Munich World Cup.
On Thursday, Panwar made the final in third spot with his first series of 105.1 being the highest out of the five series. It was the ninth time in 31 World Cup Finals since 1988 that an Indian shooter had reached the final of the 10m Air Rifle event.
“He was shooting in a competitive qualification after a while but the fact that he only shot two scores below 10 in six series meant he was in good rhythm. During the last three months, we got time to change his rifle and also replaced its barrel to suit his style. Apart from that, we got an electronic trigger in the rifle with 10 gm of weight which made it easier to shoot with his long fingers,” Dubey informed.
In a pedigreed final, Panwar was placed second after the first two series trailing Istvan by 0.4 points. The elimination series saw both exchanging the top two positions before Panwar had a lead of 0.7 before the gold medal shoot-off. The Jaipur shooter shot 9.8 compared to Istvan's 10.0. Panwar's last shot of 10.1 was bettered by Istvan's 10.5, but the Indian came out on top by the barest of margins.
“My focus was to shoot according to my strength and once I got into the rhythm in the first two series, I knew what to do. I took time before the final shot and did not see the score. It was only after the announcement that I got to know that I won the gold,” said Panwar.
The last two years have seen Panwar spending time in meditation and Dubey is ready with new copies of the Bhagvad Geeta. “He now knows how to control himself and sees shooting as a video game, which he plays games once a week. We have taught him breathing control techniques and he carries a small pocketbook of the Geeta. His dream is to win an Olympic gold,” the coach said.