Gold rush with guns

WHILE GAGAN NARANG(in pic) claimed four gold medals, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore successfully defended his Manchester 2002 gold.-PTI WHILE GAGAN NARANG(in pic) claimed four gold medals, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore successfully defended his Manchester 2002 gold.

The Indian shooters dominated the show by winning 16 gold medals. It was one more than what Australia and England managed together at the range, writes KAMESH SRINIVASAN.

Trust the Indian shooters to hit the bull's eye. Australia and England dominated the Commonwealth Games like never before, but the Indian shooters gave the leaders a sound thrashing, in retaining the pride of position.

The two traditional powers won 120 gold medals between them overall, but the Indian shooters dominated the show by winning 16 gold medals. It was one more than what Australia and England managed together at the shooting range.

The Indian shooters were powered by the exploits of the dependable Samaresh Jung, who bagged seven medals including five golds. The shooters collected 27 medals, which was four more than what the rest of the contingent managed in fetching a total of 50 for the country. The shooters accounted for more than 72 per cent of the country's gold medals from Melbourne as the rest could manage only six in number.

It was an improved haul for the shooters after they had finished with 24 medals in the last edition in Manchester, when they had won 14 gold, seven silver and three bronze medals. The haul was 16 gold, seven silver and four bronze medals this time.

Jaspal Rana and Anjali Bhagwat — who had won four gold medals each in the last edition — were unable to make much of an impact this time. In fact, Jaspal — the lone individual gold medallist in the Asian Games in Hiroshima in 1994 — was reduced to competing in only one event, his favourite centrefire pistol, and could not win an individual medal.

The baton had changed hands. Samaresh won at least a gold in each of the four events that he competed — the air pistol, free pistol, standard pistol and centrefire pistol. He had Jaspal Rana, Vivek Singh and Ronak Pandit to support his case in the pairs events while he was brilliant on his own steam in the air pistol and free pistol individual events, in which he had won the silver the last time behind Mick Gault of England.

The haul improved as a clutch of new stars like Gagan Narang — who bagged four gold medals in the air rifle and free rifle 3-position event — usurped the stage with effortless ease.

Olympian Gagan has been in the shadow of the seasoned Abhinav Bindra for some time, but has emerged as a strong force in recent times. Of course, it was Abhinav who lent his shoulder to Gagan in clinching the two team gold medals. The two are going to chase the Olympic quotas not just in air rifle but in free rifle 3-position as well.There was Tejaswini Sawant and Avneet Kaur Sidhu, who were able to excel in air rifle after having displaced the likes of Anjali Bhagwat and Suma Shirur from the team in a fair selection that was based on current form and not on reputation. Likewise Anuja Jung had got ahead of Olympian Deepali Deshpande in the 3-position event, but was able to assert her class with an individual gold and a team silver with Anjali. Vijay Kumar and Pemba Tamang continued to assert the country's supremacy in the rapid-fire pistol event, while the likes of Sushma Singh Rana and Saroja Kumari were able to extend their support to the team's pursuit of maximum gold medals.

The very fact that we have talked little about the Olympic silver medallist, Lt. Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, only goes to show how much the focus has been evenly spread. Rathore had shot to fame by winning two double trap gold medals in the last edition of the Games. At Bisley, Rathore and Moraad Ali Khan won the gold, the country's first ever medal in double trap internationally. Rathore had shot an outstanding 191 out of 200 in bagging the individual gold ahead of Olympic gold medallists Richard Faulds of England and Russell Mark of Australia then.

Rathore was not in such great form as to be able to shoot a 49 out of 50 in the final this time, but showed his class in a competitive field in retaining the gold. Rathore shot 181 this time and won by a one-point margin.

Manavjit Singh Sandhu led with a 122 out of 125 before the final but fell below par in tough conditions to end up with a bronze in trap. The other trap shooter, Olympian Mansher Singh, who had won the gold with Manavjit with a record total in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, lost his father during the individual event and eventually missed the final on the tie-shoot.

Overall, the Indian shooters, trained well by Hungarian coaches Laszlo Szucsak and Gyorik Czaba, have shown remarkable improvement, though there are many areas and events to work on. The challenge would be to win an individual medal in the Asian Games, as India could win only two team silver medals in the last Asian Games in Busan. That is the challenge for Samaresh and company, though they would be busy chasing the Olympic quota places around the world.

He was the hero of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, not just of the Indian contingent.

AP

Pistol ace Samaresh Jung set out to win eight medals in four events and ended up with seven, including five gold medals. He was a class act in winning the individual gold in air pistol and free pistol, the Olympic events, but lost out on the tie shoot in centrefire pistol in which he was competing internationally for the first time. He had the score for the gold, but had to be content with the bronze.

When the world was looking at him to see whether he would match the likes of Australian swimmers Ian Thorpe and Susie O'Neill, in winning a record six gold medals, Samaresh finished ninth in the standard pistol event.

"I am happy and satisfied. I would have been disappointed had I shot badly. This was malfunction. It is destiny," said Samaresh, ever the contented man, who added tongue in cheek that he was not too worried about the windfall in the form of cash incentives, as he had won more money from the government for lesser medals last time.

The 35-year-old from Delhi had shown his ability in the last Commonwealth Games with two gold and three silver medals. He failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics by a whisker.

With wife Anuja Jung, in her Commonwealth Games debut, winning the women's sport rifle 3-position gold apart from the team silver, the family ended up with nine medals, a record that may stand the test of time.