A matter of routine for Mansher and Rathore

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

THEY had done a good job in the international season. They had won the Commonwealth Games double trap gold medals through Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Moraad Ali Khan; the trap bronze in the same competition through Anwer Sultan.

Mansher Singh clinched the trap gold for the umpteenth time.

The gritty marksman from Shamli, Anwer had gone on to clinch the Asian Clay shooting gold and had also helped the team win the gold in the company of Mansher Singh and Manavjit Singh Sandhu, while the latter grabbed the individual bronze as well.

In the only two shooting medals won in the Busan Asian Games, one was by the trap team, which took the silver. Overall, the shotgun marksmen had done justice to their potential though they could have done better in the World Cups and the World Championships earlier in the season.

Thus, there was a lot of interest in the National shotgun championship held at the Dr. Karni Singh Range in Tughlakabad.

Yet, there was no stopping Mansher Singh from clinching the trap gold for the umpteenth time, or Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore doing a hat-trick of titles in the double trap.

Rajpal Singh Kochhar beat some seasoned stalwarts to win his maiden individual skeet gold.

There was some twist to the script, when Mansher tried his hand in double trap, and marched to the silver, after threatening Rathore of a coup midway through the final, when he had hung on to a one-point lead, taken in the preliminary phase.

There was another addition to the list of National champions, when Rajpal Singh Kochhar beat the rest of the seasoned stalwarts in skeet, to win his maiden individual gold, at 48.

The battle was quite hot in the trap range, as it had been a long season of intense rivalry between Mansher, Anwer and Manavjit. They had put their shoulders together for the national cause, but there was no denying the fact that each wanted to outwit the other.

It was Mansher's class that told in the end, as the 37-year-old was able to regain his supreme self-confidence thanks to diligent training. The man who had dominated the event for two decades ever since he won his first national title in 1983, Mansher had been witness to Manavjit winning the gold in the last two editions. Mansher was quite charged up this time and set a hot pace on the opening day with a 72 out of 75, and continued in the same fashion the next day, except for losing some focus in the final, when he shot a below par 21.

There were too many reasons for the break in the rhythm, and the string of `no birds' really tested the patience of the shooters, not in the least the champions. Mansher prevailed because he had a healthy lead.

Maj. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, winner of the double trap event with Mansher Singh (left) and Vikram Bhatnagar (bronze).

Manavjit overturned Anwer in the final lap, with his sharp marksmanship, as he returned the best card in the final, with a 24 out of 25. He knew that he may not be able to catch up with Mansher, but the silver was always there to be attacked, and he did succeed, in wrenching it from the grasp of Anwer.

To be fair to Anwer, it had to be conceded that he was not at his best as he was observing Ramzan fasting. Maybe, it was psychological, but Anwer was quite determined as he said that he would set the record straight in the National Games.

Among the juniors, Birendeep Singh Sodhi did well to win his fifth successive junior title, after having won two earlier as a sub-junior. Of course, he could not show his class in the final, which showed that he would need more time to mature and challenge the big guns for a berth in the national squad.

There was a hitch in the double trap marksmen shooting world class scores as they were shooting on an obsolete system, after having practised to match the latest rule.

The new rule defined that the clay pigeons would be released from the machines, with a time variable of zero to one second, after being called. It would mean that the double trap marksmen cannot start squeezing the trigger, immediately after calling the bird, as the release of the birds would not be instantaneous as was the case earlier.

Arti Singh with a decent score 65 took the women's skeet gold.

The international competitions from January would be on the basis of the new rule, and all it required was a chip costing 50 Euros to implement the change at the range. However, nothing could be accomplished despite the keenness of Rathore and company to get the three chips for the three ranges to ensure that the National championship would be conducted as per the latest rule, to help the shooters tune up for the hectic season.

It would have made a lot of sense to have shot the new rule, especially so, as Delhi would be hosting the World Cup and the Asian Clay Pigeon events in March 2003.

``I could shoot this well, after one day of practise. I would love to be in the trap team'', said Mansher, who grappled with his rhythm in the final, after a fine fare earlier.

The likes of Moraad Ali Khan, Ronjan Sodhi and Gaurav Sondhi, who had represented the country were unable to assert themselves, and failed to win the individual medals.

The honour of the bronze went to the 32-year-old Vikram Bhatnagar, a businessman with an MBA from Oxford. He does indulge in shooting rifle and pistol as well, apart from trying his hand in golf. But the medal would boost the confidence of the young man so much that he may spend the rest of his time honing his skill in double trap.

The skeet shooters will have to train harder to make their mark at the international level. But on the domestic stage there was no dearth of competition, as the race was quite intense. It was Rajpal Singh Kochhar's equanimity over two days, that helped his team clinch the gold.

He could have equalled the national record of 142, but for missing the last bird in the final. He had ensured the gold by then, and it was understandable that the 48-year-old businessman lost some of the intensity.

The overnight leader, Naveen Jindal, who had shot rounds of 24, 24 and 24, was hampered by a strained back following his exertion in the polo final, and thus was in no shape to provide a tough challenge. He had to be content taking the fourth spot, but was quite pleased to help Chattisgarh win the team gold.

By winning the tie shoot for the silver in fading light against the defending champion Amardeep Singh Rai, the former Haryana minister Rao Inderjeet Singh showed that he was still in very good touch.

Shagun Chaudhary who claimed the women's double trap event.

The 51-year-old who had won the national title three years in a row said that he had renewed his passion for the sport, as he was trying to guide his talented daughter, Arti Singh make her mark internationally.

Arti did make it to the fourth position in a world championship in 2001, and also made the prestigious World Cup Finals, but has not been able to match that level this season. One major reason could be the fact that she has none to push her at home, as she happens to be the lone woman practising the sport.

Yet, by returning a decent score of 65 out of 75, Arti did emphasise that she was getting ready to assert herself in the season ahead.

Among the juniors, former National champion Rahoul Rai's son Devesh did well to clinch the gold, to send out a signal to the seniors that he would soon be taking their place. There is of course need for youngsters to push the standards up, though it cannot be denied that the elders have really shown the expertise that experience can command.

Overall, it was an enjoyable competition, though the compilation and display of scores left a lot to be desired. The electronic scoreboards made it a lively affair, but it was tough for anyone to know the overall picture, as the compilation was manual.

It is time the technical staff of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) took it seriously and reached world standards in this regard. They have a lot to catch up with the world class shooters.

The results:

Trap: 1. Mansher Singh (Del) (118, 21) 139; 2. Manavjit Singh Sandhu (Punj) (113, 24) 137; 3. Anwer Sultan (UP) (115, 20) 135.

Team: 1. Indian Airlines (Birendeep Sodhi 111, S. M. Faizal 108, Zorawar Singh 105) 324; 2. Uttar Pradesh (Anwer Sultan 115, Gaurav Sondhi 105, G. R. Khan 95) 315; 3. Delhi (Mansher Singh 118, Moraad Ali Khan 109, Karan Kumar 87) 314.

Juniors: 1. Birendeep Singh Sodhi (IA) 119; 2. Ankur Singh (UP) 87; 3. Bhaskar Dutt Sharma (UP) 87.

Women: 1. Sumathi Muthalagan (TN) 35; 2. Shagun Choudhary (Raj) 32.

Skeet: 1. Rajpal Singh Kochhar (Chat) (118, 23) 141; 2. Rao Inderjit Singh (Har) (116, 22) 138 (11); 3. Amardeep Singh Rai (Chat) (115, 23) 138 (10).

Team: 1. Chattisgarh (Rajpal Singh Kochhar 118, Amardeep Singh Rai 115, Naveen Jindal 114) 347; 2. Delhi (Harinder Singh Bedi 111, Rahoul Rai 109, Vijay Soni 106) 326; 3. Karnataka (Baba P. S. Bedi 112, Savya Sachi 110, G. Susheel 96) 318.

Juniors: 1. Devesh Rai (Del) 95; 2. Alok Singh (IA) 86; 3. Karan Bhadwa (UP) 84.

Women: Arti Singh (Del) 65.

Double trap: 1. Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (Army) (132, 42) 174; 2. Mansher Singh (Del) (133, 38) 171; 3. Vikram Bhatnagar (Del) (125, 43) 168.

Team: 1. Delhi (Mansher Singh 133, Moraad Ali Khan 128, Vikram Bhatnagar 125) 386; 2. Army (Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore 132, Hem Raj 119, Krishan Kumar 102) 353; 3. Uttar Pradesh (Gaurav Sondhi 119, Romi Shiv 102, Shyam Singh Yadav 88) 309.

Juniors: 1. Asab Ali (UP) 108; 2. Birendeep Sodhi (IA) 95; 3. Lokeshwaran (TN) 91.

Women: 1. Shagun Chaudhary (Raj) (71, 20) 91; 2. Chandravati Rathore (Raj) (50, 14) 64; 3. Sumathi Muthalagan (TN) (46, 17) 63.