Borrowing a gun!

Gareth Morris,the individual Queen's Prize winner.-SANDEEP SAXENA

While everyone was left marvelling at the world class range, sporting electronic targets for the first time in the world for such an event, the host had to hide its face in shame for not having a suitable weapon to compete with, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

There is no doubt in anyone's mind that Indian shooting is all set to dominate the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, notwithstanding the new selection policy that has kept the shooters on their toes. But, India, which has always been a dominant force in the Commonwealth Games, may not stake a strong claim for two medals in the full bore events, with targets ranging up to 1000 yards.

There was a veritable preview to the Commonwealth Games in October, during the recent Commonwealth Shooting full bore championship at the CRPF range in the dusty village of Kadarpur in Gurgaon.

While everyone was left marvelling at the world class range, sporting electronic targets for the first time in the world for such an event, the host had to hide its face in shame for not having a suitable weapon to compete with.

It was shocking to note that the authorities had Rs. 25 crore to set up a quality range, but did not have the foresight to place orders in time for suitable rifles that roughly cost about Rs. 2 lakh each!

In such a scenario, there was a general feeling that the host would not compete in the Queen's Prize event, in which targets are fired from 300, 500, 600, 900 and 1000 yards, for the simple reason that it had not competed in such an event before. Moreover, nobody, including the army shooters, had ever trained for such an event.

It was thought that the team would pull out after competing in the 300-metre ISSF event. Of course, the Indian shooters were good over 300 metres, and had competed in the National championship last December. They even threatened to strike medals in their international debut in the event, thanks to their impressive scores during the National championship.

In contrast, leading teams like Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland and South Africa, with the exception of England and Scotland that were stranded back home owing to volcanic ash playing havoc with the flight schedules, were ready with their main shooters to get a feel of the range and the conditions.

Trust India to solve the problems at the last minute! Thanks to the initiative of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) and the man responsible for setting up the range, T. S. Dhillon, a retired Inspector General of Police of the CRPF, the host managed to borrow a rifle from one of the visiting teams, and got a taste of shooting in such an event.

Amit Khanna and Praveen Dahiya meditate during a break in the Queen's Pair event. The borrowed gun is in the middle.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Major Praveen Dahiya and Major Amit Khanna finished eighth among as many teams in the Queen's prize pairs event, but it was indeed a major breakthrough after the two had had a mere two days of training prior to the event.

The two had also competed in the 300-metre event, in which national champion Sushil Ghalay was the main hope for the host. But it was a completely different experience to be shooting over such long distances as 900 and 1000 yards, in which the targets are hardly visible despite being so huge. The rifles do not have any telescope, and it can get really complicated in a dusty atmosphere with the wind capable of blowing the bullet completely away from the target, if the calculations are not made meticulously keeping in mind all the relevant factors.

In the event, Major Dahiya and Major Khanna gave a good account of themselves. In fact, Major Dahiya had a perfect round of 50 over 500 yards.

The team suffered a setback when the ‘sight' of the rifle came loose during the competition over 600 yards. The two overcame the setback and managed to shoot decent scores as well, with the lone borrowed rifle that they used by turns.

It was a hard learning experience for the two Indian shooters, but they thoroughly enjoyed the exercise and vowed to train hard in the coming months so that they can strike hard during the Commonwealth Games.

With a quality range in place, all it requires is to have a good bunch of probables training hard, with the right weapons, for the Commonwealth Games.

Sushil Ghalay did show that India was capable of winning a medal or two in the 300-metre competition, despite not shooting anywhere near his best score. Unfortunately, the 300m event does not figure in the Commonwealth Games, though it features in the World Championship.

The Results

Queen' prize: 1. Gareth Morris (Wal) 397; 2. Petrus Haasbroek (RSA) 394 (41v); 3. James Corbett (Aus) 394 (33v).

Queen's prize (pairs): 1. New Zealand (John Snowden 295, Michael Collings 290) 585; 2. Australia (Geoffrey Grenfell 294, James Corbett 283) 577; 3. Northern Ireland (David Calvert 293, Gary Alexander 283) 576; 8. India (Amit Khanna 260, Praveen Dahiya 259) 519.

300m free rifle prone: 1. Robert Oxford (Wal) 586 (26x); 2. David Wright (Aus) 586 (16x); 3. David Calvert (NIR) 585; 5. Sushil Ghalay 580; 11. Praveen Dahiya 563; 13. Pradeep Kumar 542.

300m free rifle prone (pairs): 1. Wales (Robert Oxford 582, Gareth Morris 579) 1161; 2. Northern Ireland (David Calvert 592, Gary Alexander 558) 1150; 3. Australia (David Wright 589, Angus Bell 559) 1148; 4. India (Sushil Ghalay 580, Pradeep 564) 1144.

* * * System bug fells Grenfell

Gareth Morris, a management consultant from Wales, was a class act as he won the individual gold in the Queen's prize competition from a strong field. However, there was a bitter taste in the end, as one of the title contenders, Geoffrey Grenfell of Australia, felt cheated by the malfunctioning of the electronic system. Two of his shots did not register during the 900-yard competition.

With the jury not upholding his appeal, Grenfell, a gunsmith by profession, was devastated on the final day, and failed to give a good finish to his otherwise lively campaign. He was absolutely flawless throughout, even in the pairs competition, till this misfortune struck him.

Even Morris, a true champion with a big heart, was sympathetic towards Grenfell and said that he had expected the appeal to be upheld.

Many shooters had experienced similar problem, but had been given an opportunity to shoot at a different target or take shots once again at the same target.

Grenfell had also fired two provisional shots that fetched him nine points out of 10. But when his appeal was rejected, he lost those points and with it the race for the gold.

The 49-year-old Aussie said that there was a definite bug in the electronic system, particularly after the Sius-Ascor system had a virus attack on the computer. He was categorical that the electronic system needed to be tuned thoroughly before it could become foolproof, and alleged that the authorities were backing it because of the huge amount of money that had been spent in acquiring it.

It has also been suggested to have a manual set-up behind the targets to physically check the score. This could help ascertain the veracity of the claim of a shooter.

Gone are the days of the shooters moving away from the target from 300 to 1000 yards. These days the targets move away from the shooters, with instant record of scores on the computer. If the system is tested thoroughly before being put to use in the Commonwealth Games, the shooters will be able to compete on a level playing field rather than depend on a big stroke of luck.