Yi Siling of China, who earned a shooting quota spot when she won the world women's 10-meter air rifle championship in Munich two years ago, capped her domination of the discipline since then with the Olympic title on her debut.
"I feel like I had a lot of luck," Yi said, even though the results said otherwise.
Unheralded Polish soldier Sylwia Bogacka topped qualifying and had gold in her grasp until the third-to-last shot. She recovered to claim silver for her first major medal.
Yu Dan of China earned the bronze, as China became the first team since 1988 to enjoy two medallists in this event.
Yi, renowned for her ability to stay unruffled, cried with relief in her coach's arms after the final, and welcomed the mob of Chinese media, saying their enthusiasm made her feel like a movie star.
Movies may not be that far off for the woman known in her homeland as "the Shooting Beauty."
But all she and Yu could think of afterward, aside from celebrating with teammates, were their families. Yi said her father has been suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure for a year. Yu became emotional in thanking her family, especially her father, for their support. She stood at the news conference and bowed to the TV cameras and wiped tears.
"They never let me worry," Yu said.
Yi has made it to 12 finals in 15 competitions over the last four years, and medaled nine times. She's the world and Asian champion. However, even she admitted to nerves throughout the event at the Royal Artillery Barracks.
She couldn't catch Bogacka until the Pole flubbed her eighth shot in the 10-shot final. Bogacka scored 9.7, her worst of the final, and dropped to third, but a near perfect score, 10.8 out of 10.9, on her final shot gave her silver ahead of Yu.
"It happens sometimes," she said of the 9.7. "I didn't prepare well for the shot but I knew what I did wrong and fixed it for the last shot. I saw in my mind the last shot, 10.8, and when I saw it on the monitor I was very happy."
She's the first Polish shooting medallist since 2000.
Defending champion Katerina Emmons of the Czech Republic, who scraped into the final from a qualifying shootoff, finished fourth. Beijing silver medallist Lioubov Galkina of Russia was 10th.
Nur Suryani Mohd Taibi of Malaysia, competing while eight months pregnant, was 34th in the 56-strong field, and was relieved not to go into labour during the 75-minute qualifying.
"She kicked only three or four times," Mohd Taibi said. "I told her to behave herself and she always listens to me."