Mehuli Ghosh had been giving hints this might happen.
Domestic scores are, and should be, taken with a pinch of salt but when Ghosh shot a staggering 637 points in the qualification stage of the Khelo India University Games in May, it seemed like things were clicking into place. The current ISSF world record in the women’s 10m air rifle event is 635.3 and she went flying past that mark.
On Saturday, Ghosh won the bronze medal at the 2023 Baku World Championships in the same event, shooting 229.8 to finish third. She also managed to snag India’s fourth 2024 Paris Olympics quota spot. Fifteen-year-old Tilottama Sen, ranked 18th in the world and in her first senior World Championships, finished fourth behind Ghosh.
“I can still feel the nerves that I was feeling in the finals. It was a heck of a final for me. It was a very tough fight for everyone. There was only a small difference between each of us so it was an exciting and nerve-wrecking match. I’m very proud that I was able to win a medal and a quota for India,” said Ghosh after the final.
She started off the qualification round in some style, scoring 634.5 to top it. The scores of all her series read 106.0, 105.4, 106.7, 105.2, 105.7 and 105.5, and nothing exemplified the consistent barrage of mid-to-upper 10s she was consistently finding more than her third series. Ghosh’s groupings in the third series of qualification shots were about as close as they could get and her last shot in it was her worst – a 10.5.
As great as Ghosh was in qualification, it was the finals where things suddenly opened up. The ISSF had earlier reverted back the 10m air rifle final to its previous format for these World Championships. So instead of a shootout between the Top 2, it was now back to a two-stage competition where the first would be two series of five shots each, and the second stage would be eliminations after every two shots.
The final turned out to be breathtaking in its intensity as all eight shooters stayed within reach of one another after the first stage. The highest score after the 10 shots taken in the first stage was 105.1 while the lowest was 102.2. At one point, Sen was last but by the end of the first stage, she had managed to climb up to joint-sixth place.
The decisive part
It was in the elimination rounds that pressure started to show – but not on the Indian shooters.
Oceanne Muller, who was leading proceedings suddenly found herself on the brink of elimination when she got into a sixth-place shootout with Sen – who then proceeded to calmy drop a 10.7 shot to eliminate the French shooter.
Sen then kept plugging away and reached the fourth spot, overcoming Switzerland’s Audrey Gogniat and Iran’s Shermineh Amirani. At that point, India was already guaranteed a Paris Games quota. Ghosh, who was in the third spot and had dipped slightly, came up against Sen who was only 0.2 points behind her. But a clutch 10.8 from Ghosh ensured that her teammate at Gagan Narang’s Gun for Glory academy would have to wait a while for her first Worlds medal.
“We had calculated prior to these World Championships that she was probably going to do well,” Ghosh’s coach Bibaswan Ganguly told The Indian Express after the medal was won. “The final was quite cut-throat – even when (Oceanne) Mueller got eliminated, she was in third spot and had one bad shot. At this level, everyone participating in the finals is almost equal in skill. But in that moment, luck and intensity can matter so much. It wasn’t the best performance from Mehuli in the final. She was in the kind of form that could have beaten the Chinese shooters.”
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The Indian women’s team also won the team gold after Ramita Jindal finished 11th in qualification with 630.1 points.
In the other events of the day, the Indian men’s 10m air rifle team had a disappointing qualification round with Divyansh Singh Panwar coming 28th with a score of 627.5, Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar finished 33rd with a score of 627.3 while debutant Hriday Hazarika finished 68th with a score of 623.6.
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The men’s skeet team too failed to make the final of their event.