Hitting the bull’s eye: Young shooters raise hopes of bright future after Asiad haul

In recent times, the number of Indian teenagers winning medals at the big stage has gone up exponentially, and Shardul Vihan is one of them.

Fifteen-year-old Shardul Vihan on Thursday became the youngest Indian shooter to win a medal at the Asian Games.   -  PTI

Since 2015, the year he reached the legal age of shooting with firearms, Shardul Vihan has been having his breakfast, and often dinner, inside a car while travelling from Meerut to Delhi and back.

For three years, accompanied by a family friend of the Vihans, the double trap shooter has been undertaking a nearly 250km round trip to learn the basics of shooting, at a range tucked away in a corner of the national capital.

Aged 15, the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range has been his second home, where he would have his lunch, and from where he emerged to become the youngest Indian shooter to win a medal at the Asian Games.

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The silver in an event, which will not be a part of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, has prompted him to focus on trap. Shardul, whose father is into real estate, picked up a gun for the first time when he was nine.

In recent times, the number of Indian teenagers winning medals at the big stage has gone up exponentially, and Shardul is one of them.

Coming from the interiors of the country from not-so-economically sound background, the meteoric rise of young shooters is a statement of sorts.

Shooting, no longer, is restricted to the elites and the city goers, thanks to the success of teenagers such as Shardul, Saurabh Chaudhary, Manu Bhaker, Anish Bhanwala and Elavenil Valaviram.

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They have also reduced the gulf with the seniors, and the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) happily acknowledges that the plethora of supremely talented fifteen-year-old, sixteen-year-olds and seventeen-year-olds has raised hopes of a successful outing at the 2020 Olympics.

“Manu, Saurabh, Mehuli, Elavenil, Anish, Lakshay and Shardul are just some of the names who have made their mark and I can assure you that there are at least 20 such youngsters who are shooting at the same level and you will hear about their performances soon,” NRAI president Raninder Singh said.

The federation’s junior programme, with coaches like Jaspal Rana and Deepali Deshpande at the helm, has paid dividends.

Also involved in grooming the young talent, away from the national camps, are committed people like Gagan Narang and Joydeep Karmakar, who are giving back to the sport, to the delight of the shooting fraternity.

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Raninder said: “The junior shooting programme has been an ongoing prime focus of the NRAI, especially over the last three years and will continue to be so. 51 per cent of our budget has been and will continue to be allotted for the same and you have already seen the results of the same.

“We will continue to have our former champions involved in developing youngsters, make them compete with seniors at the domestic level, fast track them into the senior side on the basis of scores and continue to give them the support, exposure and opportunities they deserve.”

The last two days of the competition at the 18th Asian Games were medal-less but Indian shooters did well overall, winning nine medals including two gold to finish third in the standings.

Compared to the previous Asian Games, there was significant improvement from India’s point of view despite the lack of team events.

India had finished eighth in the overall shooting tally four years ago with nine medals including a gold from Jitu Rai.

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“What this has also done is kept the seniors and established stars on their toes and you must have noticed a marked consistency and improvement in their performance levels as well,” said Raninder.

“That happens when domestic competition is at a world level. We hope this will continue to pay dividends in international shooting and in Tokyo Olympics.

“The credit for this should go to team NRAI, all the coaches and our former champions who have rendered incredible service in giving back to the sport,” he added.

The road ahead promises much more, a far cry from the days when India would have to rely only on names such as Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, Jitu Rai and Heena Sidhu.

“The overall objective is to ensure that India never has to depend on one or two stars for medals at the highest level and the pipeline is so strong that whoever gets selected to the Indian team, which is generally on recent form, is capable of winning medals internationally.”

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