Unheralded armyman Vijay Kumar provided the silver lining for India at the Olympics, clinching second place in the 25m rapid-fire event to lift the nation's spirits after a subdued showing until Friday.
The 26-year-old Commonwealth Games champion, who comes from Himachal Pradesh and is an ex-armyman’s son, held his nerves in the six-man final and was assured of the silver before shooting his final round.
Kumar’s success follows Gagan Narang’s bronze medal in 10m air rifle.
Many Indian shooters have become household names, having proved themselves on the world stage but subedar Kumar, despite his consistency, had gone unnoticed until Friday. The modest shooter honed his skills on the army ranges before his steady rise enabled him to join India's elite squad.
It is only India's fourth shooting medal at the Olympics. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore opened the account by clinching silver in double trap at the 2004 Athens Games before Abhinav Bindra became the country's first individual gold medalist by winning the 10m air rifle in Beijing four years ago.
Kumar, who finished with a tally of 30 out of 40 in the final, was humble in victory. "I had mentally prepared myself for this moment," he told reporters. "Being in the army has made me mentally tough and I used that to my advantage. Whatever I had planned, I have achieved."
The garrison town of Mhow was in celebratory mode after Kumar, a product of the Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU) like Rathore, clinched the issue in London. Kumar, who joined the force in 2001, has been posted at Mhow since 2004.
The town erupted in joy and sweets were distributed. At AMU, army officers were elated. "At the unit, this has reinforced the belief that we're going to bring more such laurels in the 2016 and the 2020 Olympics," said Col AS Saran, commanding officer. "The medal will motivate young shooters, they will now believe they can achieve more."