Another good show from Anjali

IT was a competition for the top 10 in the world in Munich. Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat finished second best among the women, as she lost the race on the last shot in the 10-shot final. She recorded 9.5 to 10.2 by Lioubov Galkina of Russia.

"Gold would have been great, but silver was not bad in that field," Anjali said.

The winners in the World Cup at Munich: Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat (silver), Lioubov Galkina (gold) and Jing Gao (bronze).-

However, the dynamic young woman from Mumbai, had the last laugh in a meeting of the best men and women rifle shooters, when she lifted the title in the Champions Trophy air rifle open event.

It was a fitting climax to a season of heart-warming performances when Anjali had cornered two silver medals from three World Cup appearances. The World Cup Final was a great experience for the 32-year-old CISF Inspector as she matched the best in the business in the vibrant atmosphere of the world class range, witnessed by a huge gathering of men, women and children.

"It was a great experience, shooting with the top 10 in the world. The scores were very close. There was a lot of jumping up and down the positions in the final," said Anjali, who was 0.7 point behind Galkina, but 0.2 points ahead of world record holder Jing Gao of China.

In fact, the world record was achieved for the third time in the year, as Galkina emulated Jing Gao and Sun Hwa Seo of Korea with a 400 out of 400.

Yet, Anjali who had a 9.8 with her 28th shot in the 40-shot preliminary series for a 399, gave a tough fight to the rest of the field, taking the lead at times, and tying the scores at the end of penultimate shot.

"It was a very close competition, and anybody could have won the gold. Gao was best in the final with a 104.4 but she had shot only a 397 in the qualification series. There was a huge crowd enjoying the competition as the German Championship was also on at that time. People knew their shooting and appreciated the good technique as much as the good scores," said Anjali as she recalled the experience.

The selection for the World Cup Final was based on the performances in the four World Cups and the World Championship. There was no wonder that the cream of talent was on parade, matching wits, in a select 11-member line up.

"It was a lot bigger than the Olympics. It was tough," said Anjali, who came for all-round appreciation after her showing in the women's final.

"I really shot well, and a lot of people came to me and congratulated me. For some reason, they were more happy with me than with the Russian," she said.

Beating two World record holders, the reigning world champion Katerina Kurkova of the Czech Republic, and two-time world champion Sonja Pfeilschifter, was indeed a memorable experience for Anjali.

The Champions Trophy, an open competition for the medal winners put together by SIUS Ascor, the electronic target manufacturer from Switzerland, was a novel experience.

There were World and Olympic champions in both the men's and women's section. There were nine in all, four men and five women, vying for the top honour and a prize purse of 2500 Euros.

There was Jie Li of China, the men's air rifle winner. There was Matthew Emmons of the US, the men's 3-position gold medallist. There was Olympic champion Rajmond Debevec of Slovenia. And there was the seasoned Artem Khadjibekov of Russia, among the men.

On the women's side there were three Chinese apart from Galkina and Anjali.

The competition was based on an elimination basis. After the first four shots, the shooter with the lowest total score was eliminated. It was a Chinese woman who got eliminated first, and the men, who were under tremendous pressure because of the big crowd, got eliminated one after the other.

In the combined air rifle event, the field was left with Galkina, Jing Gao and Anjali, when it was the Russian's turn to bow out. That left Anjali and Gao. The scores were brought to nought, and the two were given three shots each to prove their worth for the big prize. Gao shot 10.4, 10.1 and 9.5 while Anjali shot 10.5, 9.5 and 10.6.

It was as good a finish as the Indian had come up with and Anjali got a standing ovation from the gathering.

There was a lot of charm in the event as it was the first combined competition, after the regular events, before the combined air pistol event that was won by Vladimir Gontcharov of Russia, as he recovered some of the lost pride for the men.

"After the women's final I knew what I had to do. I knew where to break, and I also knew that there would be a huge pressure on the men. Unfortunately all the men lost early," said Anjali, quite thrilled with her effort, in what may be termed as a triumph in the battle of the sexes.

Anjali won the hearts so much that the generally quiet Chinese came to her and congratulated her profusely. It was not just the competitors but the Chinese coaches, trainers and others who came to Anjali, and took photographs with her.

"You are a good shooter with a very good technique," said the Chinese to Anjali, in a rare friendly gesture. Well, Anjali did not expect anything going into the prestigious competition.

"I had seen the shooters in the World Cups and World Championships. It was nothing new to compete with them. But the German Championship held concurrently ensured a huge crowd, and that made all the difference. I have never seen such an appreciative crowd, as everyone seemed to be keeping track with their laptops, video cameras and other such gadgets. There were so many children, and they were all shooting so well," said Anjali, as she relived the fine experience.

Anjali also talked about how well the prize distributions were conducted for the national championship and the winners were taken in a parade in the indoor arena before being escorted out till the gate, with a band leading them.

The 3-position competition was not that great for Anjali, as she had been exhausted under the tension of having lost her passport in Frankfurt.

"It was a horrible experience. I had everything else including the old passport. It was a very tense experience and I was all alone, with only coach Sanjay Chakravarti with me," said Anjali, who broke down over the phone while talking to her husband Mandar Bhagwat in that moment of tension, on the day she landed in Germany.

However, the Indian High Commission officials ensured that she got a new passport, valid for a year, as they wanted to save her the botheration of running around immediately on return in view of the Asian Games.

"I was known as the news about the Commonwealth Games in Manchester was very fresh with the officials. They were very cooperative and kind. In fact, they were very happy to see me and help me," recalled Anjali.

Of course, Anjali was disappointed about losing the 10-year visa to the U.S. and the one-year visa to the U.K.

But it will be tough for any country to refuse her a visa any more. For, she is one of the best in the world, and a better known face.

"The 3P competition was going on very well and I had a good average. After the last round of kneeling when I had two 8s and two 9s, the average was brought down," said Anjali who felt that she needed to improve her endurance to do well in the 3-position event.

She missed the final on the count back though her score of 375 made the grade. Anjali felt that she could have had a chance in the indoor 50-metre range, had she made the final, as the scores in the final were poor overall, and anyone could have had it good on the given day. Well, she will forget this quickly and get ready for the Asian Games.

The results:

Women's air rifle: 1. Lioubov Galkina (Rus) 502.3 (400) EWR; 2. Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat 501.6 (399); 3. Gao Jing (Chn) 501.4 (397).

Women's sport rifle 3-position: 1. Hong Shan (Chn) 684.1 (588); 2. Natalia Kalnish (Ukr) 683.8 (586); 3. Xian Wang (Chn) 681.3 (583); 9. Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat 572.