New shooting sensation Jitu Rai provided the first gold medal, while Shweta Chaudhry clinched a bronze as India launched their campaign in the 17th Asian Games with two medals on the opening day of the competitions in Incheon, South Korea on Saturday.
While Jitu struck gold in the 50m pistol event, Shweta's bronze came in the 10m air pistol competition at the Ongnyeon Shooting Range in Incheon but medal aspirants Heena Sidhu and Malaika Goel turned out to be disappointments as they failed to even reach the finals.It was a reasonably good start for the Indian contingent, bagging a gold on the very first day of the Games, considered to be the second biggest after the Olympics.
Jitu Rai (L) celebrates with a team official after winning the men's 50m pistol individual final of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. (AFP Photo)
While the shooters stole the limelight, athletes in other sports also began their campaign on a bitter-sweet note.
Star shuttlers Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu hammered their respective rivals in straight games as India clinched a 3-0 triumph over Macau China to enter the women's team event quarter-finals.
However, the men's team was outplayed by South Korea 0-3. K Srikanth and Commonwealth Games gold-medallist Parupalli Kashyap went down in contrasting fashions while the doubles team of Sumeeth Reddy and Manu Attri also failed to come good.
The Indian women's tennis team was also off to a winning start as it blanked Oman 3-0 in the first round.
Prarthana Gulabrao Thombare and Ankita Raina notched up contrasting singles victories before the pairing of Natasha Marie Anne Palha and Rishika Sunkara was handed a walkover in the doubles match.
But the star of the early proceedings was undoubtedly armyman Jitu. The 27-year-old showed steely grit to get the better of a strong field, which included two-time Olympic champion Jin Jongoh of South Korea, to snatch the gold off the final shot in a straight duel with Vietnamese rival Nguyen Hoang Phuong.
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The Vietnamese, in fact, was leading the Indian ace, who had recently won the gold at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and a silver at the Granada World Championships going into this competition. But the Indian clinched the issue on the last shot.
Jitu shot 8.4 after his rival had fumbled with a poor 5.8 to win the gold with an overall tally of 186.2, as compared to Nguyen's 183.4.
This was Jitu's sixth medal on the trot in international competitions this year.
The bronze was clinched by China's Wang Zhiwei (165.6).
Jitu thus became only the second Indian pistol shooter to clinch an Asian Games title after Jaspal Rana and the fourth shooter overall after shotgun experts Randhir Singh in 1978 and Ronjan Sodhi in 2010.
However, the Indian men's team finished fourth with Jitu's teammates Om Prakash (555) and Onkar Singh (551) ending up 10th and 16th respectively.
Earlier, Shweta, competing with a gun she was not used to as her own gun had been held back by the Korean Customs, secured the bronze medal in the 10m range in air pistol with a total tally of 176.4 behind champion Zhang Mengyuan of China (202.2) and runner-up Jung Jeehae of South Korea (201.3).
Shweta's teammates Heena Sidhu (378) and Malaika Goel (373) ended up 13th and 24th respectively while the trio as a team got the fifth spot from among 14 teams.
Shweta defied odds, a travel-weary schedule and absence of her regular weapon to provide India with their first medal.
The 28-year-old had to eliminate a rival through a shoot-off to ensure the bronze in the women's 10m air pistol event.
Having qualified for the eight-strong final list with a total score of 383 even as her more fancied teammate Heena Sidhu got eliminated, Shweta showed exemplary poise to fight her way back.
She managed to stave off early elimination by being the third best after the first eight shots, recovering from sixth 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.
Shweta was leading Guo 138.3 to 137.9 when she became nervous and a 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.
In the badminton event, Saina opened the proceedings for the team and hardly broke a sweat before thrashing Kit Ieng Wong 21-6 21-4 in just 21 minutes.