India's shooting woes continued with Gagan Narang, finishing in the 13th position with 623.1 points, failing to make the final of the 50m rifle prone event.
Chain Singh, the other Indian in the fray, ended in 36th spot among 47 shooters with a score of 619.6. The top eight athletes from the qualification phase advanced to the final.
Shooting 104.7 in the first series, Narang moved into fourth position before moving up by a spot midway through the third. His below-par scores in the last three series, particularly in the fourth and sixth series - 103, 104 and 102.4 - made it difficult for him to climb back among the top eight.
It was an immensely difficult day for Narang who had focused on the 50m prone as his first choice event for the last few years after having won a bronze in the 10m Air Rifle at London. On another cold, windy day at the shooting range, he put in a strong performance only to falter right towards the end. At the end of 55 of the 60 shots, Narang was placed seventh and had he continued to shoot at the same level he had been at the earlier point of the competition, Narang was sure to have made the final.
However, his 56th shot was a 9.5 which was an immediate setback. It set in a chain reaction of lower 10s and threw him at the back of the field. With the leading contenders holding up their scores, Narang tumbled out of the top-10 and ended up 13th, unable to recover with the high tens he needed to shoot. It was a dispiriting moment as Narang finished his round and looked at the scoring charts. He waited for confirmation of the final placings but Narang knew his chance had gone. He shook his head disconsolately and stared emptily at the range for an extended period. As he walked past the media corps, Narang nodded gently to the request for an interaction.
His agony though was visible as most of his answers were unfinished sentences. He is an experienced shooter at his fourth Olympics but this perhaps was the most devastating blow of his career. Commendably he held the tears back though they were welling up as he answered questions. While another event awaits him on the 14th, he faces very long odds to win a medal. For the Indian shooting contingent, the despair continues and the prospect of returning home empty handed is now very real - an outcome that no one imagined especially after four medals were clinched at the last three Olympics.
During the qualification round, each shooter fires 60 shots within 50 minutes. The maximum qualification score is 654.0 points. Both Narang and Chain will next compete in the 50m rifle 3 position event on Sunday.
Speaking after the event, Narang said that he had high expectations from himself in this event. "This was the event I was preparing for and I had a good feeling about it. I fought very hard till the very end and was in it till the 55th shot - the last four shots put me out of the final. I gave my best, I gave all I had. The wind was tricky today, sometimes blowing sometimes not. I didn't miss too many shots with the wind today but last four shots cost me."
Narang said that he had shifted his focus to the prone event for this year's Olympics. "Strategically I chose another event to qualify in because I would obviously carry excess baggage from the last Olympics having won a medal in the Air Rifle. That is the reason I chose prone, of course there is pressure of being a medalist but that was in Air Riflle.
Prone was a new event for me and I left no stone unturned. In prone, the ammunition is very important, if you don't have that and a good barrel you can't run your race with your hands tied. I struggled a lot to find good ammunition and the amount of testing and the ammunition that I had, it all fell in place but I guess the last four shots....I will have to go back and think what exactly happened. I will have to run it through my mind again."
Narang looked to be in good form in the first three series but low scores in the fourth and sixth series cost him a chance of making the finals."I just wanted the shoot a good score. If I continued to shoot the way I was in the first 30 shots, I knew I would make the final. Obviously I wasn't seeing the scoreboard. Yes, the pressure was immense. One 9.5 that I shot the wind was a lot on that, I think everybody shot a 9.5 on that shot who was on my left and right. It baffled me, I didn't understand why that happened. That's like one point gone already!"
Narang said that he had no plans of quitting the sport and would continue shooting. "Definitely I would like to shoot more. This is definitely not the end for me. I have another event though it is not my main event but fingers crossed, if I have a good day and shooting well in all three events, it is just about putting it together on one day."