Asian Games: Aishwary Tomar wins bronze - but it could mean more to him than all his golds

Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar won bronze in the men's 10m air rifle event at the 19th Asian Games Hangzhou 2022. Aijaz Rahi/AP

Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar, at 22 years, has a clutch of international gold medals in the last four years - 3 solo senior World Cup golds won in 3 different years and one at the junior World Championship (with a world record) plus a smattering of silver and bronze.

But the Asian Games individual bronze he won on Monday will probably be more special for him. The medal came in the 10m air rifle, which is his second discipline of sorts. Tomar's primary event is the 50m rifle 3 positions - that's where he's won most of his medals and the one in which he competed at the Tokyo Olympics in.

And it's not just the event itself, it's how he competed during the day: He outgunned a former world champion - his compatriot Rudrankksh Patil - and prevailed in the shoot-offs against 10m air rifle specialist. And in a category that holds sentimental value to Indian sports fans - this was Abhinav Bindra's event.

Many rifle shooters compete in both disciplines but there is a marked difference between the 10m air rifle and the 50m rifle 3P. It's not the distance alone; 50m 3P involves a lot more calculation, from gauging the direction of the wind to the time and angle needed to shoot in kneeling, prone and standing positions.

Competing in both means splitting practise time, longer competition hours, more physicality and mental math. He sees this as an advantage though.

"Competing in two events is an advantage. If I don't do well in one, I can compensate with the other. If I do well in both, that is doubly good," he was quoted as saying after the final.

The qualifying round earlier in the morning hinted at what was to come; three Indians (Divyansh Singh Panwar was the third) qualified for the final and, with that, won India's first gold - the team medal - of this Asian Games. Panwar missed out on the final because of the rule that only two shooters from a country can compete.

The final itself became a battle between the two Indians. China's Sheng Lihao broke away from the field early on, setting a new world record with a score of 253.3, but the bronze was still in play between Tomar and Patil, the 2022 world champion in this category. And it became a battle of nerves:

  • After 15 shots: Tomar and Patil were placed third and fourth respectively, with a only a difference of 0.2 difference between them.

  • After 16 shots: Tomar had fallen to fourth, out of the medal zone, and the difference was just 0.1.

  • After 17 shots: Patil and Tomar were level at 177.3.

  • After 18 shots: Tomar scored 10.7 to survive elimination. With two Indians among the four left in the fray, there was a medal assured for India.

  • After 19 shots: A near-shoot off between the two Indians to decide the medallist.

  • After 20 shots: Tomar hit 10.2 and Patil a near-perfect 10.8 to level scores at 208.7

Now, there was one shot to decide which Indian would win a medal. Tomar held his nerve, hit 10.8 to Patil's 10.5 and won the bronze.

The medal comes after a tough Olympic cycle for Tomar. He couldn't seal a Paris Olympic quota spot for India - Swapnil Kusale won the first at last year's World Championship in Cairo and Akhil Sheoran won the second at this year's Worlds in Baku. He couldn't make the final at the Worlds in either discipline, despite being part of the team gold in 50m 3P.

Making things worse was that the World Championship came soon after his hat-trick of gold medals at the FISU World University Games in Chengdu earlier in August - men's and individual 10m air rifle, men's 50m rifle 3. He was the in-form shooter and here there was someone else winning a medal and quota in his pet event.

But that was August, this is September.

He now has a chance to add two more medals to his tally at this Asian Games and will take great confidence that it's his pet event - the 50m rifle 3P - next, on September 29.

Given his form, he could well end the Games with the most medals among Indian athletes.