Asian Games 2022: Teenager Ramita holds her nerve on brink of elimination to win India's first individual medal

Ramita Jindal won bronze in the women's 10m air rifle event at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. ADEK BERRY/AFP via Getty Images

Ramita Jindal found herself facing elimination after just one poor shot in the women's 10m air rifle final at the Hangzhou Asian Games on Sunday.

She'd been tied second in the final after 15 shots, but her 16th shot was a wayward 9.9 - her first 9 in the final. Her 17th shot was a 10.0, not too much of an improvement. With two shots, she went from being second and in medal contention to the brink: a straight shoot-off to survive against fellow Indian Mehuli Ghosh.

Practically a veteran at 22, Mehuli was the senior in this field, coming off a bronze medal at the World Championships last month. She was the favourite to medal for India. Ramita, though a junior world champion, was in her first final for India at a major senior multi-sport event and, at 19, she could be forgiven any show of nerves.

Both hit 10.5 on their 18th shot. Both survived and Ramita was back at third.

With four shooters left - two Indians and two Chinese - the next two shots would decide the medallists. A medal for India was confirmed but who would win it - the teenager or the seasoned shooter?

Ramita's next two shots were 10.7 and 10.8. As near-perfect as it gets. And it meant Ramita won India's first individual medal of the Asian Games - in 10m air rifle, a legacy discipline for Indian shooting.

She had a shot at silver with her next series - she was level with reigning world champion Han Jiayu - but her final shot was 10.4 and Ramita ended with a bronze medal.

Shooting is a sport for the calm and composed. But even experienced shooters can crack when one bad shot threatens to derail their final and they have a few seconds to salvage their game. Mehuli, who's won medals at the Commonwealth Games, World Cup and World Championship, struggled to do that.

Ramita's form in the final was a continuation of what she'd done in qualification; she finished second with a score of 631.9, once again remarkable given how China had three shooters in the top 8 and won the team gold with an Asian record. The trio of Ramita, Mehuli and Ashi Chouksey also won the team silver, which is decided by a country's cumulative score in qualification.

At the 2018 Asian Games, this was one of the few categories India had not won a medal in. This time around, Indian shooting's tally opens with two in this discipline - on the right track for the redemption the sport is hoping for after the Tokyo Olympics blip.

This time last year, Ramita - from Ladwa in Haryana - was competing in the ISSF Junior World Championships in Cairo. That was perhaps the first glimpse of the resolve she showed in Hangzhou. In the final against China's Ying Shen, she was tied at 12-12 (in the briefly used gold medal match format where the higher score was graded as points.) Her next shots were a 10.8 and 10.7, to become the junior world champion.

A teenager from India's considerably successful junior system and winning big medals is a story Indian sport in familiar with. But to do it in women's 10m air rifle, which has recently been one of the most competitive categories in Indian shooting is special.

Her profile on the official media guide says that Ramita's idol is Anjum Moudgil. It's an interesting pick because she is also one of her competitors.

India's women's 10m air rifle squad once featured Tokyo Olympians Apurvi Chandela, still the Asian record holder, Elavenil Valarivan, who won a World Cup gold in Rio last week, Ramita's idol Anjum, Mehuli among others. To top this field, be part of the team gold at the senior World Championship and now two medals at the Asian Games tells of sustained growth.

It also validates NRAI's strict selection policy, which counts the average score across 6 trials and international events. Ramita's average this year has been a solid 633.33.

The teenager has climbed up from good performances in the Khelo India Games and National Games, before her junior world championship crown. She currently trains at Gun for Glory, the shooting academy founded by Olympic medallist Gagan Narang, under coach Neha Chavan.

Soon, she will be well known name in India. That's what a medal at Asian Games can do, and should do for a sport trying to rebuild for another Olympics. It's still the first day of the competition and India has a new teen shooting star to celebrate.