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Gagan Narang's bronze set India's medal tally rolling at the London Olympics. In this Idea Exchange moderated by National Sports Editor Sandeep Dwivedi, Narang speaks about the sport, the gold medal he missed and his academy in Pune.
Sandeep Dwivedi: Your bronze medal was very important because until then India had not won a medal. You lost out on the gold by 1 point. Can you explain to us in centimetres or millimetres, how close you were to that gold medal?
Gagan Narang: I shoot three events. In the 10 m air rifle, the bull's-eye is 0.5 millimetres at a distance of 10 metres and the bullet is 4.5 mm long. The bull's-eye is like a dot that you would make on paper with a pen. The highest that you can score is 10 out of 10, 60 shots with a maximum of 600 points. I shot 598.
I shoot in the 50 m prone event, which also has 60 shots and you have to shoot lying down. The prone event has a live cartridge. The bullet has gunpowder and propulsion. The bull's eye is about 10.4 m, the size of a small button on a shirt 50 metres away.
The three position event is the hardest and the longest. It is a marathon event. You have three-and-a-half hours to shoot 120 shots. You have to shoot in three positions—standing up, kneeling and prone.
The 10 m air rifle event is always held in an indoor hall so the lighting and temperature is constant. The 50 m is an outdoor event, the temperature and the lighting varies. The wind conditions are different which makes shooting difficult.
I qualified in the final of the 10 m air rifle with a score of 598. I was very nervous about the match and my coach and I had discussed the day before that it was absolutely necessary for me to be calm before I started. I started at 9.32 a.m. and it took me 20 minutes to shoot my first record series. By 9.55 a.m., I had 50 shots left to complete in 50 minutes. Now that is a difficult task, something I had never faced before. Also, I had to take a break in between because standing for 50 minutes at a stretch makes your legs go numb and then you start losing balance which can directly affect your shooting and your scores. In the third series, I made a tactical mistake. I should have taken a break but I was in a good rhythm and I didn't want to disturb anything. However, the 29th and the 30th shot, I scored 9 and it was then that I realised that something was wrong and I should rest. I went out, spoke to my coach, played a game on his Ipad to take my mind off the event and calm myself down. When I shot those two nines, it is very difficult because you have 30 shots left and you are already two down. These things can really affect your brain, really weigh you down. But I had faced a similar situation in the Asian Games. I was confident of overturning the deficit. However, in the end, it was more of a battle against the clock because if you do not finish shooting all 60 shots, you get a zero. The last shot is always critical for me, I tend to get a little jittery, I tend to shoot 9s. I had bet 100 pounds with my coach on whether I would shoot a 10 on my last shot. I shot a 10.7 and it was really heart-in-the-mouth stuff. I knew that the last shot would decide whether I would be in the final or not. My 10.7 helped me into the Olympic final.