London Olympics 2012: Unheralded Vijay Kumar bags silver in 25m Rapid Fire Pistol
London: Armyman Vijay Kumar turned out to be the unlikely hero as he lifted the sagging Indian spirits when he fought a nerve-wracking battle with five other top marksmen to clinch the silver medal in the men's 25m Rapid Fire Pistol event at the Olympic Games on Friday.
The 26-year-old army subedar, belonging to the 16th Dogra Regiment, displayed ice cool temperament to give the silver lining to India's stuttering campaign in the 40-shot final to finish runner-up behind gold medal winner Leuris Pupo of Cuba.
The fact that Pupo needed to equal the world record score of 34 out of 40 to clinch the issue in his favour shows the intensity of the battle involving six top shooters that included world champion Alexei Klimov of Russia, who finished outside the medal bracket.
The others in the thrilling finale were the Chinese duo of Ding Feng, who ended up with the bronze behind Kumar who tallied 30, and Zhang Jian and German Christian Reitz.
Kumar, who became the second Indian medal winner at London Games after fellow marksman Gagan Narang, gave cheers to the Indian camp with his splendid performance after badminton hope Saina Nehwal tripped at the semifinals earlier in the day.
Narang, who won the 10m air rifle bronze to open India's account here on July 30, could not even make the finals of the 50m rifle prone event today, an indication of how tough the competition is at this level.
Kumar started the final with a bang by finding the mark in the first of the eight rounds involving five shots each. He found the target 30 times out of 40 attempts in the series comprising eight rounds of five shots each.
He is the fourth Indian shooter to win a medal at the Olympics, following the footsteps of Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (silver in 2004 Athens), Abhinav Bindra (gold in 2008 Beijing) and Narang.
Apart from Kumar, another shooter, Joydeep Karmakar, narrowly missed out on a bronze medal in the 50m rifle prone event after setting an Olympic record in the qualifying stage.
Karmakar put his best foot forward to finish fourth with a tally of 699.1, which was just 1.9 adrift of bronze medal winner's score of 701.0.
After scoring 595 out of 600 and then qualifying for the finals through a shoot-off with eight others, who were all tied in fourth place, the 32-year-old Kolkata man shot consistently well in the finals, but still finished outside the medal bracket.
The one point difference that Karmakar conceded to the eventual bronze medallist Rajmond Debevec of Slovenia proved to be decisive in the battle for the third place.
In men's hockey, India went out of contention for a semifinal place after being routed 5-2 by Germany in Group B, their third successive defeat in the six-team pool.
Young striker Florian Fuchs (7th minute, 16th, and 36th) scored a brilliant hat-trick for the Germans, while Oliver Korn (24th) and Christopher Wesley (33rd) were the other goal-getters for the European giants.
For India, VR Raghunath (13th) and Tushar Khandker (62nd) reduced the margin of defeat.
The morning, however, ended in disappointment for the hopes of the millions of Indian sports fans when Saina was outclassed in two straight games by world no. 1 and top seed Yihan Wang of China in the semi finals.
However, the star Indian shuttler, the fourth seed and world no. 5, still has a chance to clinch the bronze when she takes on Yihan's compatriot Xin Wang, the world no. 2, tomorrow in the play-off.
The 22-year-old Indian, who yesterday became the first Indian to reach the semi finals of an Olympic badminton event, won 13 points each in the two games that she lost to the Chinese top seed in the 42-minute match.
The silver medal went to Belgium's Lionel Cox who had a score of 701.2 while Slovakia's Rajmond Debevec had to be content with the silver medal with a score of 701.1.
Karmakar, who won a silver in the ISSF World Cup in Sydney, made an impressive debut in the Olympics and had he held his nerve in the crucial stages, could have even grabbed a bronze medal as the Slovakian just about managed to forge ahead.
"I was under too much pressure in the final. I tried to catch up with the Slovakian but he just did not give me the chance as he kept improving. I was shooting well, but Rajmond was shooting beyond me. I just could not peg him back," Karmakar said.
Karmakar said that he could focus on the job at hand and perform well because there was no hype around him.
"In a way, it was a blessing in disguise. There was no media attention on me. I could just go out and shoot freely. It is my first Olympics, I am sure, I will keep improving," he said.
"In the qualifications, I was going a bit slow. In the last two rounds, I had two 100s and that really brought me back into contention," he explained.