Incheon, South Korea: Pistol shooter Shweta Chaudhry defied odds, a travel-weary schedule and absence of her regular weapon to provide India with their first medal, a bronze, in the 17th Asian Games in Incheon on Saturday. (Day 1 Live Blog | Schedule | Medal Tally)
The Faridabad-born Shweta had to eliminate a rival through a shoot-off to ensure the bronze in the women's 10M Air Pistol event with a total tally of 176.4 at the Ongnyeon shooting range in Incheon. China's Zhang Mengyan won the gold with 202.2 while host country South Korea's Jung Jee-Hae secured the silver with 201.3. (Asian Games: Jitu Rai wins gold)
Having qualified for the 8-woman finals with a total score of 383 even as her more fancied teammate Heena Sidhu got eliminated after notching up 378, Shweta, 28, showed exemplary poise to fight her way back in the finals.
She managed to stave off early elimination by being the third best after the first eight shots, having recovered from the 6th position. She had a poor 8.4 when the last four shooters were standing, which forced a play-off with China's Guo Wenjun to decide who remains in the competition. (Jitu Rai impresses with six world medals in-a-row)
Shweta was leading Guo 138.3 to 137.9 when she became nervous and the poor mark of 8.4 followed to force the shoot-off in which she shot 10.7 while her Chinese rival came up with only 10.0 to be eliminated.
This ensured at least a bronze for the married ONGC employee, but by then the leeway she had conceded to the top-two shooters was too big to bridge.
And a poor first shot of 8.6 pegged her down further and though she shot 10.5 with her last shot, as compared to 10.7 by Zhang and 10.0 by Jung, she got eliminated from the gold medal round.
Shweta's sequence of scores in the 20-shot finals, in which she completed 18 shots before being knocked out, were 10.8, 10.7, 9.3, 10.2, 10.0, 9.8, 9.3, 7.7, 9.7, 10.3, 10.1, 9.8, 10.7, 9.9, 10.6, 8.4, 8.6 and 10.5.
Shweta was ecstatic to give the country the first medal on the opening day action. "I am happy I got the first medal for India, it's a bronze but a medal is a medal. This is the biggest medal for me till now. I was thinking of first or second place in the beginning when it was good but in the middle I lost a bit. That 8.4 was a bad shot (leading to shoot-off)," the Faridabad shooter told reporters after winning the bronze.
Shweta later said that she had to fight without her regular weapon which had been held up at the Korean customs over the last three days as the number sent to them from India did not match with that on the weapon. But she did not want to blame anyone as she said the shooters keep changing their weapons.
"My weapon has been stuck with the customs officials here for the last three days. I changed my weapon recently and there was a problem with the serial numbers. I had trouble sorting that out," she said.
"After three days of talking with the Korean customs people my weapon was delivered to me at 8am today but my event started at the same time, so I could not use it. I decided to fire with the spare weapon. Both of them are of the same make but I would have wanted to fire with the new weapon. Anyways I'm glad to have won the bronze with this," she added.
Shweta also complained about jet lag after reaching here in a round-about way from Spain where she took part in the world championships in which she finished her competitions on September 12.
"I could not perform upto my expectations in the world championships, which is my worst performance to date. Then I had lot of difficulties reaching here from Spain and I was yet to get out of the jet lag. But I was confident that I had the potential to win a medal here and I am happy to achieve it," she said.
She also said the medal here was a great boost for her ahead of the Olympic Games in 2016 in Rio for which she has to qualify.
"This bronze is great motivation for me and I hope to build on it. The next year is a very crucial year with World Cups and many quota places for the Rio Olympics up for grabs. My goal is to make the cut for the Olympics. I've been working hard for it."
Shweta also said that she has had to fight and overcome an injury to her shooting arm and she was now looking ahead towards qualifying for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
"The injury is on shoulder of my shooting arm. The injury is due to shooting only. Because of the injury I've not been able to fire my best," she added.
Though Shweta got the bronze, because of the indifferent displays of her teammates Heena Sidhu (378) and 16-year-old Malaika Goel (373), the Indian team finished outside the medal bracket by ending 5th out of 14 countries with a sum total of 1134.
China won the gold (1146), while Chinese Taipei (1141) and Mongolia (1140) upstaged Korea to win silver and bronze. The hosts finished fourth.