We could have won gold: Ravi Kumar after winning mixed bronze with Apurvi Chandela

Asian Games 2018 | Schedule | Results | Medals tally

Shooters usually make for boring winners. Inscrutability follows them even after they've set down their rifles and sights and the rare, visible celebration in itself merits an instant medal.

This is where team events may offer some help.

On Sunday afternoon, as Ravi Kumar stood on the podium, deadpan, the medal hanging motionless around his neck, he heard a soft whisper in his left ear followed by a slight elbow nudge. It was teammate Apurvi Chandela chiding him to mimic her action and hold up his medal with a smile into the cameras flashing before them.

They'd just rung in India's first medal of the 2018 Asian Games - a bronze with a score of 429.9, in the mixed team air rifle event which is making its debut at the tournament.

What's more, this came after barely a fortnight of training together. "We got very little time to train before this," Ravi told ESPN, "We could have won gold but the difference between the top three in the final is so narrow that it's always so hard to tell. It's a happy moment for us and also special because it's India's first medal here at the Games and our first medal together." They'd both won bronze in the individual 10m air rifle event at the Commonwealth Games in April this year.

Before this, the Indian pair's best showing as a team was a fourth-place finish early in the year at the World Cup in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was followed by a disappointing 11th position at the Munich World Cup later in May. But the hardest part for most shooters like him, Ravi says, is just getting used to the idea and physical presence of a teammate. In a lonely sport like shooting, it can often be unsettling. "You have to be constantly aware of your teammate and his or her scores and how you shoot. How much time you take to shoot can affect your teammate and vice versa. It's not easy to get used to. Like today, even after a few competitions together, I had to keep reminding myself when it was my turn to shoot." In mixed events, teams fire alternate shots with the teammate standing on the left side shooting first.

Apurvi/Ravi qualified for the final in second position with a total score of 835.3, just behind Koreans Eunhea Jung and Hyeongjun Kim's Games record score of 836.7. Ravi shot a superior 420.0 (103.9, 104.9, 104.9, 106.3) to Apurvi's 415.3 (104.7, 103.8, 101.8, 105.0) in the stipulated 40 shots each.

"I think the understanding we share is pretty strong," Ravi adds, "We don't spend much time off the lane or training but we know we have each other's backs at the competition."

In the five-team final that followed, the Indian duo began well and was placed second with 102.9 points after the first 10 shots. By the end of the second, they'd set hopes on a swell with just a 0.4 difference from top-placed Korea, but some brilliant scores from Chinese Taipei thereafter saw a churn in the standings with India falling behind by 2.2 points while still holding on to second spot after Stage 1 (30 shots) on 308.5 points. Mongolia was the first to be eliminated and just when the announcer in the hall, in seeming hurry, prophesied a Chinese exit next, there was a churn in the standings. The strong Chinese pair of Ruozhu Zhao and Haoran Yang moved up to second position, pushing India one place below with 349.0 points and Korea were promptly shown the door.

For 25-year-old Apurvi, mentor Rakesh Manpat says, this is about more than just a maiden Asian Games medal. "It's about finding her belief back," he says. "She had a forgettable tournament in the last edition of the Games (finishing sixth in the individual event) which came rushing back to her mind at this Games again. Last night she asked me, 'how do I deal with this, I have failed here before?' The other thing was she didn't seem too comfortable with the atmosphere of the shooting hall during training. Sometimes when she goes for tournaments she tells me how the arena is perfect to shoot brilliant scores. This time she didn't sound like she was mentally in the right space. But she has fought all those demons and won. It's a huge boost for her ahead of her individual event."

Much like Apurvi, Ravi is mildly relieved that the mixed competition is over and he can now just focus on the individual event. But he appears to be curling into virtues of the team game and willingly offers up credit. "Apurvi was better than me in the final. This medal is because of her."