Sift Kaur Samra: Once med student, now world-record gold medallist at Asian Games

Sift Kaur Samra poses with her gold medal from the 50m rifle 3P event at the 19th Asian Games, Hangzhou. Sun Fei/Xinhua via Getty Images

Shooting is a sport of fine margins, with the difference in finishing positions often coming down to decimals.

At the Asian Games today, Sift Kaur Samra shot that theory out of the sky, winning India's first individual gold medal in Hangzhou with one of the most dominant performances seen in a 50m rifle 3 positions final.

  • She finished a whopping 7.3 points ahead of the silver medallist, the reigning world champion, Zhang Qiongyue of China.

  • She broke the final world record by a sizeable 2.6 points - after setting an Asian Games in record in qualification.

  • She dominated the final from the third series, not giving the lead once she claimed it, putting more and more distance between her and the next in line.

And she did it across 3 different positions, one of the more gruelling disciplines in shooting.

It takes a remarkable level of both physical and mental strength to achieve this. But Samra (22) has already shown she's got the mental capabilities: she's cracked NEET, the notoriously difficult all-Indian medical entrance test, and was a medical student at GGS Medical College, Faridkot. She dropped out after a year, when her sporting success compelled her to make a choice between becoming a doctor and a shooter. She chose shooting, unconventional as the choice may be.

There are not many similarities between shooting and medicine and balancing the two fields, both requiring above-average smarts and focus, takes a special effort.

Yet, Samra's appetite for a challenge is evident in the way she competed on Wednesday. In tennis, there is often a phrase used when a player is hitting exceptionally - seeing the ball like a football. On the day, it felt like Samra was seeing the bull's eye target like a football, or at least better than all her competitors.

To be more than 7 points ahead in a full-strength shooting final is a rare occurrence. To do it in a long-drawn final like 3P is phenomenal.

The 50m rifle 3P is shooting's equivalent of long-distance running; the target is much further away than in other range events and the shooters need to manage external factors like wind conditions while maintaining a time limit. A shooter has to set up and adjust their sights three times, without losing concentration. And they have to do the whole sequence twice within a few hours, from qualification through to the final.

Samra sailed through both. Her numbers in the final are mind-boggling:

She claimed the lead after the first kneeling series of 15 shots, but was just 0.1 points ahead of Zhang.

After the second prone series, in 30 shots - she was 0.9 points ahead of fellow Indian Ashi Chouksey in second position.

After 35 shots she was 2.8 points ahead of Chouksey.

After 40 shots, she had a sizeable 5-point lead and had all but confirmed gold with the single shot eliminations beginning.

"I also was looking at the scores for all the three sections. My standing is strong so I knew if I take the lead in first (prone), I can do very well. I knew I have to do very well in kneeling," she said on her plan in the final. "In the first round, I wasn't that good during my first five shots. But others were also not doing well, so I thought I could recover."

Earlier in the morning, she showed her consistency in all 3 positions with a Games record-equalling score 594 (out of 600). For context, China's Xia Siyu started the qualification with a perfect score in kneeling and prone - 400/400. In standing, the least stable position of the three, she had only 194.

Samra started shooting in standard 9 after a casual outing to a shooting range in Punjab made her aware of her talent. "I was an accidental shooter. A shotgun shooter, my cousin introduced me to shooting. My first state event went well and all my relatives told my parents that I should go for shooting. Luckily, it worked and I am a shooter now," said the 22-year-old.

She did well at the national level and made her name at the junior international level with five medals at the Junior World Cup, and a gold medal at the National Games last year. Her first ISSF World Cup medal, a bronze in 50m rifle 3P, came earlier this year in Bhopal. In August, she won gold at the FISU World University Games and then followed it with a fifth-place finish at the World Championship that assured India a Paris Olympics quota.

In September, she is an Asian Games champion with a final shooting followers will remember for a while to come.