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Shot of silver blasts gloom
Rathore guns his way to glory
Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore kisses his medal. (Reuters)

Athens, Aug. 17: The 50th and final shot over, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore took a proud glance back to the stands and threw a soft punch in the air.

In the delicate warmth and breeze of the Markopoulo shooting range of the Athens Olympic Games, Rathore had created Indian history, winning silver in an individual event, the men’s double trap shooting.

A billion-plus in population, and yet the poverty was showing up so starkly in these Games, defeat after another depressing defeat.

At finish, Major Rathore’s scorecard read 179 points, out of which 44 came in the final itself. Gold winner Ahmed Almaktoum, who gave the United Arab Emirates its first medal, broke the qualifying Olympic record of 143 with his 144, and then equalled the final Olympic record of 189, set by Australian Mark Russell at the Atlanta Games in 1996.

Rathore finished his qualifying at a very creditable 135 and in fifth place, looking good, but not quite like a silver winner. The final was another story, with Rathore’s determination coming through his sunglasses.

Only the bearded, tough, Almaktoum stood like a rock in front. The 41-year-old’s was a lead he wouldn’t give up. Ending his session with gold, he kissed his gun, smiled and quietly went out of the range.

China’s Zheng Wang finished with bronze, at a total just one short of Rathore and a final score of 41.

Rathore beamed from ear to ear, said he was “happy” and that it was “tough”.

But how did he feel going into the final' “Look, I was tense, as tense as one can be. I died a hundred deaths, to be frank, before the final, but I knew I had prepared very well for these championships, and that I would reach my goal.”

Rathore, an avid sports lover, said: “I like cricket. That’s a good game. But maybe, after my feat, people will now start looking at disciplines like shooting with more interest. Maybe youngsters will now be eager to take this up as a challenge. I had plenty of trouble raising money for this meet’s preparations and for the preparatory meets I had been to before this. I am sure funds will now be more forthcoming from sponsors for this.”

National coach Sunny Thomas, among the first to congratulate Rathore, wasn’t available for comment. Just that eyes were misty as the Tricolour went up, only the few times that it has been up in the history of the Olympic Games.

It was a tough fight, all right. Final world record holder Daniele di Spigno hadn’t even made it to the last six, neither had Olympic champion Richard Faulds of Britain, but World Cup runner-up Zheng was always around to wrest the initiative. The occasional stray insects didn’t help either.

But Rathore, or ‘Chilli’ as his friends call him, refused to give up. The remuneration was simply immense.

Think of this. In 1900, a British citizen had come to India and went along to Paris to take part in the Games. He won silver in the 200m and the 200m hurdles. Norman Pritchard, of late though, has been termed a Briton by record-keepers.

Then there was this long wait for an “Indian” medal. It came at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 when Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav grabbed bronze in the 52 kg category freestyle wrestling. The next was a 44-year wait before Leander Paes earned bronze in the men’s singles at the Atlanta Games. At the last Games in Sydney, Karnam Malleswari won bronze in weightlifting. In between India has had eight gold, a silver and a couple of bronze medals in hockey.

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