Gagan Narang of India had big shoes to fill going into the 10-meter air rifle final at the London Olympics on Monday.
At the Beijing Games four years ago, his compatriot Abhinav Bindra became a national hero after winning India’s first individual Olympic gold in the same event.
Going into to the final Monday, Narang aimed for the gold and ended up with the bronze — earning his country its first medal at the London Games.
“I guess I have a huge stone off my shoulders,” Narang said. “Bronze is a medal, and this is an Olympic bronze medal, so it’s quite exciting.”
Narang has two more shots at gold, since he also is competing in 50-meter Rifle Prone and 50-meter Rifle 3 Positions.
The 38-year-old, who runs a shooting academy in Hyderabad called Gun for Glory, shot 103.1 in the ten-shot finals and won the bronze with a 701.1 total. Alin George Moldoveanu of Romania totaled 702.1, and top-ranked Niccolo Campriani of Italy totaled 701.5 for the silver medal.
Narang ended third in the qualifying round with 598.
In the final, he slipped twice, shooting 9.9 in the seventh and 9.5 in the eight shot, but he regained his composure and claimed the bronze ahead of medal favorite Wang Tao of China, who finished fourth with 700.4.
Shooting reached unprecedented popularity in India after Bindra won the gold in Beijing. It was India’s first gold medal in 28 years.
In London, Bindra missed the final by two shots and finished 16th in the field of 47. He totaled a disappointing 594 out of 600.
India’s previous Olympic hopes rested solely with men’s field hockey, a sport it dominated between 1928 and 1956 — winning six successive Olympic titles before being defeated by neighboring Pakistan in the 1960 final. India reclaimed the field hockey gold in 1964, but then had to wait until the 1980 games for the last of its titles. Bindra’s elimination added pressure on Narang, but he persevered.
“It has been vindicated,” Narang said. He finished 9th in Beijing in the 10-meter event.
“I think I missed in Beijing by a whisker and I feel quite nice (now). I did concentrate a little bit and that is why I won,” he said.
In the past four years, Narang has set a few records himself.
He shot a perfect 600 in qualifying for the 10-meter Air Rifle at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and set a games record 103.6 points in the final round to win his second New Delhi gold — at the expense of Bindra, the Beijing Olympic champion.
The pressure to win a medal in London was immense, and it only got worse after Bindra’s elimination. It affected Narang’s performance in Monday’s final.
“I shot two nines today. I could have done better,” Narang said. “But I am happy with my medal. It means a lot to a lot of people who have worked for this.”