Encouraging signs

"So many Indian shooters are winning and stepping on to the podium in international competitions that respect for them has to come." -- Annuraj Singh-YUSUF KAHAN

Intense competitors such as Annuraj Singh, Lajja Gauswami and Mampi Das have helped put the spotlight back on Indian women's shooting. By Nandakumar Marar.

Annuraj Singh exudes confidence. The first woman from India to win a quota place for the 2012 Olympics, the 27-year-old 10m air pistol champion is focussed on maintaining her consistency and inner calm during the competition phase of her preparations. Instead of getting excited by the prospect of a first-time Olympics appearance, the Aligarh-born shooter who shifted her home to Faridabad is looking at sustaining her form in tournaments so that when she finally gets to London she would be ready to face the challenges.

Annuraj had scored 486.6 points at the ISSF World Cup 2011 in Fort Benning, United States, to secure the second place, behind 2004 Athens Olympics winner Olena Kostevych of Ukraine. The silver medal at the World Cup came at the right time, giving Annuraj a ticket to the 2012 Olympics for the women's air pistol event.

Competing against her rivals at home at the Balewadi range in Pune, Annuraj found her bearings to score 485.8 points for the 10m air pistol title, ahead of internationals Heena Sidhu and Shweta Choudhary. Incidentally Annuraj's qualifying score at the World Cup (389) that helped her tie with Kostevych was marginally better than the 388 she recorded at the Sahara 55th National Championships. Perhaps it was because of the absence of any tough opponent to push her.

“I use self-talk to keep myself calm. My score at the Nationals is just a point less than my World Cup score, which is encouraging,” Annuraj said.

Four out of five 10-plus shots after a low 8.2 in the first round put Annuraj ahead of the eight finalists by round five and she led till the 10th.

A shooter who learnt a lot from her family at their personal 10-metre range at home (her father S. P. Singh, mother Meera Singh and brother Amitraj Singh are shooters), Annuraj made rapid strides to become a junior international in 2000 and won a silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games (Guangzhou). Tibor Gonzol of Hungary was the first foreign coach she worked with. Now she trains under the pistol coach, Anatoli Puddubny of Ukraine, at the Gun for Glory Academy.

“Puddubny's training is systematic; he makes us shoot one-on-one to help us get a feel of the pressure in matches,” Annuraj said.

Annuraj, who chose Balewadi as her shooting base, is reaping the benefits of the support she receives from the Olympic Gold Quest. She won the team event gold at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi last year.

Talking of Indian shooters gaining worldwide recognition of late, Annuraj, who works with Air India as a customer service officer said: “So many Indian shooters are winning and stepping on to the podium in international competitions that respect for them has to come.”

In the women's 10m air pistol, the ISSF, after the Fort Benning World Cup, has ranked Annuraj 11th, Heena Sidhu 18th and Shweta Choudhary 42nd.

Lajja Gauswami's first big victory came at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, where she won the silver medal in the women's 50m 3-position pairs event. She is now gearing up for the 2012 Asian Championships.-MD. YUSUF

Annuraj credits her success to family support. “Indian girls are into shooting because our families are so supportive. In my case, all were shooters so they encouraged me. Even for others, parents' backing at the start and for shooters who get married, co-operation from their in-laws is assured,” she said.

Lajja Gauswami of Gujarat, who practices in Balewadi for months away from home in Anand district, agreed. “Each time I visit home during a shooting break, my parents ask me when I am going to return to the range (in Balewadi),” she said.

Lajja, who moved to Balewadi only a few months ago, trains with India's leading rifle shooter Sanjeev Rajput. Sanjeev, an Olympian, has won a quota place in men's 50m 3-position event for the London Olympics.

“Everything is different here compared to the manual range in my state. The best part is that there are so many internationals to learn from. I want to reproduce my training scores in competition shooting,” said Lajja, who won the women's rifle prone gold and the women's rifle three-position bronze at the Nationals.

“At the world level, it is all about controlling the mind when a medal is at stake. Shooting is not so difficult when you enter the range. The shooting routine comes automatically, like pedalling a bicycle. It is the mental part that is tough to master,” she said.

During her first visit to Germany for an international event, the facilities there took Lajja by surprise. But now, having travelled to ISSF events around the world, all the ranges look the same to her.

Lajja's first big victory came at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, where she won the silver medal in the women's 50m 3-position pairs event. The one-time NCC cadet is now gearing up for the 2012 Asian Championships.

Mampi Das is another youngster who caught the eye in Balewadi. The school girl from Bengal pipped Olympians Anjali Bhagwat, Suma Shirur and Avneet Sidhu in the women's 10m air rifle event at the Nationals to win the silver medal.

For Mampi's father Manik Das, a driver, supporting his daughter hasn't been easy. The young shooter juggles with studies and shooting for now. Incidentally, after her 10m air rifle event, Mampi had to rush to Dum Dum to appear for her board examinations.

It's indeed a long, hard way ahead for Mampi, whose brief profile on the ISSF website mentions Stanislaus Lapidus and India shooter P. T. Raghunath as her personal coaches.