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In-form Gorkha shooter Jitu Rai eyes podium finish in CWG

NEW DELHI : Transiting from anonymous to well-known, shooter Jitu Rai is "very hopeful" of a podium finish in the upcoming Commonwealth Games, the confidence emanating from the historic back-to-back medals, including a gold, he had shot in the ISSF World Cup recently. The double in Maribor, Slovenia earlier this month -- a first in the history of Indian shooting in World Cup, was preceded by a silver in the ISSF World Cup in Munich. "This performance will help me in the long run definitely, but as of now, I am pretty confident of winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow," Jitu said on Monday. Impressed with his recent performances, the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) on Monday rewarded the 27-year-old pistol shooter with a cash award of Rs 5 lakh. The Lucknow-born Rai, who is based in the Army Marksman Unit in Mhow, will be competing in the free pistol event in CWG. 

He had won a silver in air pistol in Munich before winning another in Maribor to go with his gold medal in the same event. Rai said India's pistol coach Pavel Smirnov played a big role in his transformation from a shooter who was once sent back from the Mhow trials after a bad performance. "Pavel sir has helped me a lot, especially with my technique, he is very good at that. Even the army coach was of help, and so were all the national coaches," he said. Rai's story has been one of a struggle, with the shooter losing his father way back in 2006. "My mother has worked a lot ever since. She is a farmer and does her best to make ends meet so that we don't suffer," Rai, who has got a younger as well as one elder brother, said. "Everything is going good now," an optimist Rai, who is being looked after by non-profit organisation Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), added. Recalling his introduction to the sport, Rai said, "In 2006 December I joined Army's 11 Gorkha regiment centre, where I was introduced to shooting. 
I was sent to Mhow trials but was sent back from there after a bad performance. "Then I started training in air pistol with a renewed vigour and participated in my first nationals in 2009. In 2011, I won three medals and on July 19, 2011, I was called by Army Marksman Unit. "After a quiet 2012, the following year I started doing well. In the nationals, I won silver in air pistol and finished on top in free pistol, which earned me a chance to compete in international events," said Rai. The achievement in Maribor was the first instance when an Indian shooter won two medals in a World Cup championship. "My first international event was in Korea and I finished in top-7 in final. I won one silver and one bronze in the 2013 Asian Air Gun championship in Iran. In the 2014 tournament in Kuwait, I won three silver, and also shot well in the Fort Benning World Cup in USA. That's when I thought I could win medals in top international events." 

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