A path-breaking effort

ANNIKA SORENSTAM did not make the cut at the Colonial Golf Tournament, leaving the greens in tears after round two with five bogeys in eight holes. However her path-breaking effort to tee-off with elite male golfers, even though due to a sponsor's exemption, struck a chord with Anjali Bhagwat, a world-class shooter with first-hand experience of rubbing shoulders with men in competition. The 32-year-old had finished ahead of four of top world male shooters when winning the 2002 Champion of Champions combined air rifle event at Munich, probably the only Indian champion to earn the distinction of being invited to take part in a `mixed' competition featuring the world's best.

NANDAKUMAR MARAR

ANNIKA SORENSTAM did not make the cut at the Colonial Golf Tournament, leaving the greens in tears after round two with five bogeys in eight holes. However her path-breaking effort to tee-off with elite male golfers, even though due to a sponsor's exemption, struck a chord with Anjali Bhagwat, a world-class shooter with first-hand experience of rubbing shoulders with men in competition. The 32-year-old had finished ahead of four of top world male shooters when winning the 2002 Champion of Champions combined air rifle event at Munich, probably the only Indian champion to earn the distinction of being invited to take part in a `mixed' competition featuring the world's best.

Anjali Bhagwat has the experience of taking part in mixed competitions. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

Anjali not only endorsed Annika's decision to enter the forbidden PGA territory but supports creation of more invitational sporting events featuring women and men wherever possible to attract more public and media exposure for sport. The Indian shooter said: "I don't know why male golfers felt agitated by her presence. If they feel she is not good enough to be treated on par, all they had to do was defeat her." Just what happened to the Swede, startled by frenzy and controversy like a hare caught in the headlights, performing under glare of intense public and media attention to produce a one-over par in the first round, but could not handle the hype in the next, ending up joint 96th.

India's only `mixed' champion strongly feels other sports where there is no body contact should follow the lead provided by shooting and now golf. "The Champions combined shooting competition was planned as an unique event for World Cup performers to generate curiosity and mileage. Now golf has taken the lead by allowing Annika to play. Such invitationals will attract more viewership for sport by sparking interest among sports fans. The competitors should make sure to get fun out of playing,'' observed the most visible face of Indian shooting internationally, hinting at cue sports — billiards and snooker as possibilities for similar `mixed' tournaments.

Anjali broke barriers in Munich last year. Now placed at number seven on the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) list in women's 10m air rifle, she was world number one for a short period in 2002 after two silvers from three World Cup appearances, fetching her an invitation from the Munich Champions Trophy organisers for a `mixed event' restricted to 11 elite shooters. China's Jie Li, American Matthew Emmons, Slovenkia's Rajmond Debevec and Russian Artem Khadjibekov were the select male shooters, apart from five women. The Indian recollects all four coming forward to congratulate her after the victory.

``The American shooter Emmons shook hands with me and praised my performance. He admitted to being impressed by my style of shooting and composure,'' remembers the 32-year-old, for whom it was a first time experience. ``The men were laughing at the start. I had a strong feeling that whoever wins will be a lady, because women shooters were sincere and competition among them much more intense. The men, how should I put it, seemed a little careless and got eliminated at the start.'' The Indian defeated another woman, China's Jing Gao, in the title shootout, picking 2500 Euros as prize money and applause from the German crowds

Annika betrayed her frenzied fans at the Colonial despite finishing ahead of 11 male golfers in a 111-player PGA field and on level with four others. Golf however witnessed high visibility and heightened interest due to the swinging Swede, an indicator of the utility of `mixed' events featuring achievers in sports promotion, sans the hype.