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Paralympics: Teenager Manish Narwal wins shooting gold, Singhraj makes it one-two for India

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 04-09-2021 Avishek Roy

Manish Narwal went to the Tokyo Paralympics as a potential gold medallist considering the international medals and records the 19-year-old had stacked up at furious pace in the last few years. But the youngster finished seventh in his first event, 10m air pistol SH1, after having topped the qualification, which tempered expectations.

Four days on, Narwal shook off that disappointment and showed his class in winning gold in the mixed 50m pistol SH1 event on Saturday, setting a Paralympics record (218.2) in the final. Singhraj Adhana won silver (216.7) to make it a sight to watch, two Indians on the podium with the tri-colour being raised. They are both from Faridabad, Haryana and train together. It was 39-year-old Singhraj’s second medal from the range, having won bronze in 10m air pistol.

It was a tense final for Narwal and Singhraj. Narwal had a bad start but rose to the top three after the first series of five shots (45.4) with Singhraj leading the field of eight shooters (46.1). Narwal then slipped to sixth before he mounted a strong comeback, improving his position with each shot as he displayed steady shooting under pressure.

By the 12th shot, the teenager was climbing back, overcoming the pressure of possible elimination. He was back in medal contention with scores of 19.6 and 19.7 in the 4th and 5th series. Shingraj though dropped to fourth after 19 shots. Both held their nerve in the final few shots, and Narwal moved to lead after the 21st shot. Sergey Malyshev of Russian Paralympic Committee, who was holding on to the top position, felt the pressure, scoring a poor 15.4 in the 8th series. It left Narwal and Singharj to go for gold and silver in the final two shots.

“I’m very happy with the gold medal. It was an intense contest and to come good was huge,” said a jubilant Narwal. “I was a bit disappointed after the air pistol event but my coaches worked with me and I was able to put up a good performance today,” he said.

Heading to the Paralympics, Narwal had shot a world record score in the mixed 50m pistol SH1 event (229.1 points) at the Al Ain Para Shooting World Cup in March. At the Asian Para Games in 2018, Narwal was the only Indian shooter to win gold, in 10m air pistol where he shot a junior world record. He also won silver in the P4 category of 50m mixed free pistol. He continued to take big strides, winning three bronze medals in P1 and P4 (individual and team) in the 2019 Sydney Para Shooting World Championships. He received the Arjuna Award last year.

Before Narwal became a shooter—he has a congenital impairment in his right hand—who habitually broke records, he was known as a quiet boy in Ballabgarh, Haryana. He tried many sports—athletics, football and badminton—before taking up shooting in 2015.

“He was 13-years-old when he came to my academy,” said his first coach Rakesh Thakur. “It took him sometime to like shooting. He would shoot for some days and not return. I know his father, so I would call him back. That happened for some days before he started taking interest in 2016,” he said.

“He would hardly talk. It is difficult for differently-abled kids to mingle with others at the start. It was difficult to teach him at first because his holding arm (left) would not get the support, balance from the other arm. He can only move his fingers a bit. So, it took some time to learn the technique. Within a year he was winning medals.”

Narwal competed with able-bodied shooters in the 2017 and 2018 national championships. “It helped. I wanted to give him as much competition as possible,” said Thakur.

Second medal for Singhraj

It was not the first time Singhraj and Narwal were fighting for medals. In the Al Ain World Shooting Para Sport in March, Narwal won gold in mixed 50m pistol event and Singhraj bronze.

“Every shot was very difficult in the final today,” said Singhraj. “Our coach kept telling us to just focus on one shot. When I was in third position, I told myself to be calm, breathe and focus on just one shot, not to have any other thought.”

Avani flag-bearer at closing

Avani Lekhara, who has already won two medals--gold in 10m air rifle SHi and bronze in 50m air rifle SH1, has been named India's flag-bearer for the closing ceremony. The first Indian woman to win two Paralympic medals will have a shot at claiming a third on the last day of the Games on Sunday in the mixed 50m rifle prone event.

India have won five medals in shooting—two gold, one silver and two bronze.

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