Bagging the biggest prize of them all

SHE is one of the best in the world. There is no dispute about that. By winning the competition meant for the world champion and the best performers of the season, in the prestigious World Cup Finals, Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat proved yet again that the strong faith some of us have on her supreme ability, is not misplaced.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat with the crystal trophy following her triumph in the World Cup in Milan. Li Du (left) and Hiromi Misaki finished second and third, respectively. — Pic. WOLFGANG SCHREIBER-

SHE is one of the best in the world. There is no dispute about that. By winning the competition meant for the world champion and the best performers of the season, in the prestigious World Cup Finals, Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat proved yet again that the strong faith some of us have on her supreme ability, is not misplaced. After all, it is not just a hype that she gets all the attention from the media.

It was only her second appearance in the World Cup Finals, a competition for those who excel in the four World Cups in the season. Anjali had won the silver last year behind Lioubov Galkina of Russia, and was quite confident of a good score, if not the gold itself in Milan, Italy.

The only doubt in her mind was whether she would be able to use her new rifle to good effect. That doubt was dispelled as Anjali shot 49 perfect shots, out of 50, to beat a heavy-duty field that had double world record holder Li Du of China, world champion Katerina Kurkova of the Czech Republic, Olympic record holder and Sydney Olympic silver medallist Cho Hyun Kang of Korea, defending champion Galkina herself, multiple world champion and twice air rifle world champion before Kurkova, and twice World Cup Finals champion Sonja Pfeilschifter of Germany, to name a few.

Of course, most of them like Anjali had won the World Cups, and some of them had done it many times over. To beat such a field with a convincing margin of 1.3, which is a mile by world standards at that level, was indeed a stupendous effort by Anjali. The 33-year-old CISF inspector, Anjali was quite cheerful as she returned quietly to Mumbai with her husband Mandar, hopping across from Milan, to Frankfurt, to Dehi in a tiring journey with her 8-kg crystal trophy.

"It feels great. The trophy is brilliant. It was more a test for my rifle than for me. I was sure about shooting around 398. The gold is indeed a terrific feeling as they are all fantastic shooters. I missed the only 10 with my 38th shot. I was surprised about it, but concentrated well for the final'', said Anjali, who retained her lead throughout the ten shot final, despite the best in the business breathing down her neck menacingly. Anjali had shot a series of 100, 100, 100 and 99 in the preliminary phase for her 399 out of 400. She followed that with a 10.1, 10.6, 10.4, 10.6, 10.3, 10.2, 10.5, 10.3, 10.0 and 10.4 in the final for a 103.4.

The one-point lead by Anjali was good, but the competition was intense as only two of the 60 shots by the first six missed the 10! Hiromi Misaki of Japan shot the best with a 104.0 and eventually won the bronze in a shoot-off against Sonja Pfeilscifter 10.6 to 9.9. The German undid her chances of a medal earlier with a 8.9 eighth shot. Reigning world champion Kurkova shot a 103.9, but had to be content with the fifth slot with a 499.9

"I am satisfied with the effort, and have decided to use the new rifle henceforth. Otherwise, I was planning to revert back to my old rifle'', said Anjali, who had shot the gold in the World Cup at the beginning of the season in Fort Benning, U.S. It is great to start and end the season with gold medals,'' said Anjali, who, of course, would be shooting in the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad and the Commonwealth Championships in Delhi later in the season.

After the high of the gold, it was a bit disappointing for Anjali as she could not defend her `champion of champions' title in the combined competition for men and women medallists, the next day. A malfunctioning of the target after two shots, saw her being forced to change lanes, but the problems persisted, and Anjali was out midway through the competition in a field of 11. "Sunny uncle protested, but they had said that the shooter had to protest. I could have got to shoot three fresh targets, but it did not occur to me then. My third shot of 9.7 proved a big handicap and it was difficult to make up for long'', recalled Anjali, even as she praised the eventual champion Lioubov Galkina of Russia.

Galkina had earlier won the 3-position event in an extraordinary fashion in exacting conditions, and was not at her best the following day in the air rifle event in which she finished sixth. She showed her class by taming the combined field to earn the tag of Champion of Champions among the rifle shooters on the concluding day. Incidentally, Galkina has shot a perfect 400 twice in air rifle.

"My 400 would come some day at the right time!''said Anjali, even as she emphasised that she would start focussing on the 3-position event in the run-up to the Asian Championship in Kuala Lumpur in February.

"The idea at the moment, (as discussed by national coach Prof. Sunny Thomas) is to give a chance to the three other girls, Deepali Deshpande, Suma Shirur and Pournima Gawhane, to get one of the air rifle quota place for the Athens Olympics. It will be a very good chance as the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese and me have already got the quota'', said Anjali.

Having won a gold and a silver in the World Cup Finals in Milan and Munich, apart from a gold and two other silver medals in the World Cups in Fort Benning, Sydney and Atlanta, not to forget the four gold medals in the Commonwealth Games and the team silver in the Asian Games, Anjali could possibly afford to forego a gold in the Asian Championship, though the chance comes once in four years.

"There are World Cups in Bangkok and Sydney, immediately after the Asian Championship in Kuala Lumpur, and two more thereafter. So, I will have enough competition to prepare for the Olympics. Of course, I will be shooting the 3-position event in the Asian Championship'', said Anjali, once again revealing her hunger to compete in equal measure. "It gives me a lot of confidence to think that I am doing the right things and am on the right track'', observed Anjali, as she looked ahead.

It has been a brilliant rise in standards for Anjali after she had finished eighth in her maiden Olympic final in Sydney. Few Indians have risen to the world standards the way she has done in the last two years, and with such consistency. There is hope that the good run would continue next season, to help Anjali be at her best in the Athens Olympics, when the entire sporting world would be focussed to win the most sought after medals.

She may have won medals that have never been won by other Indian shooters, but it can be said without any hesitation that the best is yet to come for Anjali. At the moment, Anjali is No.1 among the top ten, right on top of the world.

The results:

Air rifle: 1. Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat 502.4 (399); 2. Li Du (Chn) 501.1 (398); 3. Hiromi Misaki (Jpn) 500.0 (396) 10.6; 4. Sonja Pfeilschifter (Ger) 500.0 (397) 9.9; 5. Katerina Kurkova (Cze) 499.9 (396); 6. Lioubov Galkina (Rus) 498.8 (396); 7. Chengyi Wang (Chn) 496.8 (395); 8. Sun Hwa Seo (Kor) 494.8 (393); 9. Cho Hyun Kang (Kor) 393; 10. Tatiana Goldobina (Rus) 391.