Anjali Vedpathak shows her class

SHE is happy and confident. Olympic finalist Anjali Vedpathak is happy about her brilliant display in the recent European tour, and is confident of repeating the performances on the big stage. That is not going to be good news for the rest of the world.

Anjali Vedpathak's hard and systematic training finally paid off when she produced a brilliant display in the recent European tour.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Touching world standards with an unprecedented consistency, Anjali shot a series of 398, 398, 395, 396, 396, 398, 397 and a national record 399, winning three gold, three silver and a bronze medal in her individual capacity in air rifle.

After making four World Cup finals apart from the Sydney Olympics final, if there is one thing that Anjali knows well about her sport, it is that there is a world of difference between shooting a normal match and a final. She has been working diligently to improve her accuracy in the 10-shot final, in which the best shot fetches a 10.9.

The result of the hard and systematic training was there for all to see when the 32-year-old Anjali shot a 105.8 in the final on way to the gold in the national championship in Indore.

Anjali was a class in the eight matches in Europe, spread over Germany, Denmark and Holland. She had scores of 104.2, 103.2, 102.4, 102.9, 102.5, 102.2, 102.6 and 102.6 in the eight finals spread over three weeks.

Anjali won her first gold on the tour in Germany by winning a tie-shoot 10.1 to 9.7 against Alexandra Schneider of Germany. It was a warning for the rest, as the field had some of the very best in the air rifle event. The CISF inspector had a total of 502.2, and was pleased to take the gold as four shooters had tied at 398 before the final.

"It was great to beat Lioubov Galkina of Russia, Sonya Pfeilschifter of Germany who had held the world record," said Anjali. Of course, she beat the current world record holder Gaby Buehlmann of Switzerland as well, in that memorable match.

Anjali had totals of 502.2, 501.2, 497.4, 498.9, 498.5, 500.2, 499.6 and 501.6 in those eight matches. In the Olympics in Sydney, Anjali had shot a 394 followed by a 99.1 for a total of 493.1. The gold had gone to Nancy Johnson of the U.S. at 497.7 then. The current fare goes to show the development in technique and confidence.

In making all the eight finals, in which she missed a medal only once by finishing fourth, Anjali also beat the Olympic silver medallist Kang Cho-Hyun of Korea a couple of times.

"Earlier we used to feel tense while shooting with the Koreans and the Chinese. With these exposures, we feel very comfortable competing with anyone", said Anjali, who braved a back-ache to shoot a national record 399 to wind up the tour with a gold on the last day of the circuit.

"I did expect to shoot around 396 to 397, because I had always shot well in the preliminaries. I am very happy with my oveall form. Maybe, I can hit a 400 in the Asian Games, who knows. I have worked hard on the release time for the finals, with my husband, Mantar Bhagwat, monitoring with the stop clock. I guess I have hit the right rhythm and am ready for the season," said Anjali, who is only the second Indian woman, after P. T. Usha, to make an Olympic final.

With the government not getting a specialist coach for rifle shooters, after the exit of Laszlo Szucsak in 2000, it has been up to the Indian shooters to work on their own to maintain the momentum of good work.

Some of them have bought special equipment and computers to help them study their performances scientifically and work on the areas to develop. Anjali is one of them.

With World Cups, the World Championship, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games scheduled over the next few months, there is a lot at stake for the Indian shooters. Every investment would be worth it, especially for the likes of Anjali Vedpathak who is touching world standards with admirable frequency.

When Anjali missed a medal for the only time, Suma Shirur rose to the occasion to bag the gold. With Poornima Gawhane showing her calibre by making three finals, there is going to be a healthy competition for the third slot in the team. That is bound to improve the level of scores of Anuja Tere who has not been in her best form in recent times, but has yet managed to assist the team to the medals, including the gold.

Apart from Anjali, there were others who did well on the European tour. In fact, it was a healthy picture overall, as the team returned with 15 gold, 17 silver and nine bronze medals. That does not include the medals won by Abhinav Bindra who had made it to Europe a few weeks before the rest of the pack.

Ronak Pandit surprised everybody with a remarkably improved show.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

There was stiff competition for Abhinav, but the 19-year-old lad was working on his technique and rhythm, not worrying much about the medals.

Samaresh Jung did well to make six finals in air pistol, and came up with a national record 584 to erase the 582 set by Jaspal Rana in Coimbatore in 1995.

Ronak Pandit surprised himself by quickly improving his air pistol scores to a maximum of 571, winning four individual gold medals in the junior event apart from helping the senior team to two gold medals. The rapidfire pistol specialist is only 16 years, and has a bright future, as he seems to enjoy the sport a lot better than many others. The talented son of the seasoned shooter Ashok Pandit, Ronak has the pedigree and the intensity of focus to overshadow the achievements of his dad.

Shilpi Singh worked hard in the women's air pistol event, though her form was fluctuating quite a bit. The experience should help Shilpi, the Commonwealth Championship silver medallist, to settle down to a sound rhythm for the more exacting competitions, and possibly strike when it matters.

The young rifle shooters, Meena Kumari and Raj Kumari of the Army were unlucky to miss a few medals, but kept improving with every match. Meena struck the junior gold in the seventh competition, with an impressive 396.

Among the men air rifle shooters, Ashok Kumar Shahi bagged the silver in the second competition of the Baltic Cup, shooting a 596, when Abhinav himself had to be content with a 591.

National coach Prof. Sunny Thomas was quite satisfied with the encouraging performance of the 13-member Indian shooting team. To think that the shooters paid their bill to the tune of about one lakh rupees each, following a promise by the government that the money would be reimbursed, goes to show the keenness and enthusiasm of the fraternity to make the strides.

With such intensity of involvement, and desire to excel at all cost, there is no reason why Anjali and company should not strike big blows in the competitions ahead.