India strikes it rich

It was a high quality fare from the Indian shooters, against World and Asian Games champions in the Asian Clay shooting championship in Tughlakabad.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (centre) is jubilant after winning the double trap gold.-Pic. S. SUBRAMANIUM

The Indian shotgun marksmen had never had it so good. Of course, it was the same with the women, as Arti Singh and Shagun Chaudhary landed rare medals for the host. It was a high quality fare from the Indian shooters, against World and Asian Games champions in the Asian Clay shooting championship in Tughlakabad.

Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, the new star, who has been making waves in the international arena, asserted the Indian supremacy with a gold in double trap. He beat the Asian Games gold medallist Chen Shih Wei of Chinese-Taipei in a tense final.

Thereafter, Anwer Sultan stole the show on a climactic final day, as he beat the world champion, Khaled Almudhaf of Kuwait, to defend his trap gold. Following a three-way tie with Manavjit Singh Sandhu and Khaled Almudhaf after the final, at 142, the 40-year-old Anwer prevailed 5-4 in the tie-break over the stocky world champion, after Manavjit who missed the second bird finished with a bronze.

Manavjit lost the race, despite having enjoyed a two-point lead over Anwer and Khaled at 120 to 118 at the end of the five rounds of the qualification series. Despite all his brilliant efforts over two days, Manavjit had to be content with a bronze as he did in the last edition in Bangkok.

Anwer sultan (right) and khaled Aimudhaf, the winner and the runner-up in the trap event.-Pic. S. SUBRAMANIUM

Coming back to Rathore, the young man had gone into the final after consistent rounds of 46, 46 and 47 that had helped him establish a clear three points lead over the Asian Games silver medallist Shih Wei Tin of Chinese Taipei. The nervousness was understandable as Rathore missed more than what he usually does in a final.

The 33-year-old Rathore, who missed the gold and the Olympic quota in the World Cup at the same venue, did not miss the opportunity.

``To keep myself motivated for this championship after the draining experience of the World Cup was tough. The champion of the World Cup, Ahmed Almaktoum (of the UAE) excused himself from the competition before the start this morning. I don't find fault with him. But then, I took it as a chlalenge. It was a test for me to handle the pressure, and get used to it. I am very happy with the gold,'' said Rathore, who had not won an individual medal in his two previous appearances in the Asian Clay championship.

To have followed the 141 in the World Cup with a 139 in the Asian Clay Championship was a stupendous effort by Rathore. He had shot a 142 and followed that with a 49 in clinching the Commonwealth Games gold ahead of Olympic champion Richard Faulds.

A sincere student of the sport, Rathore has been diligently working on honing his skills and has not spared anything to make himself a better shooter. He has already started talking about the Olympic medal, though he knows pretty well the toughness of qualifying for the Athens Games in double trap, which has a few quota places on offer as compared to trap and skeet.

There is no doubt that Rathore deserves every possible support, especially in terms of coaching and international competitions, as he is capable of taking the quota even in a World Championship, while the rest would be banking on the quota places on offer in the Asian Championship to be held in Malaysia.

Jin Yan of China, the gold winner in the skeet event, waves to the crowd. Arti Singh (left) claimed the silver.-Pic. S. SUBRAMANIUM

The likes of Moraad Ali Khan and Gaurav Sondhi have not been able to keep pace with Rathore in international competitions. Gaurav missed making the final by one point. Ronjan Sodhi, shooting without pressure of the Minimum Qualifying Score (MQS), returned a 126, better than the 124 by Gaurav and the 115 by Moraad. The team had to be content with the bronze, which could have been a silver had Ronjan been part of the squad.

Shagun Chaudhary impressed with her ability to fight against the tough Chinese in landing the first ever double trap medal by an Indian woman. The 19-year-old student of Jesus and Mary College in Delhi shot a 34 out of 40 under pressure in the third round to win the bronze in a four-member field.

Being guided by her father Sushil Chaudhary, who was a skeet shooter in the majestic company of the Maharaja of Bikaner, Shagun could handle her training and competition quite well. The experience of competing in the World Cup, albeit in a two-member field, had helped her considerably, and Shagun was a picture of poise in that third round, when she crossed 30 in a round for the first time.

Anwer Sultan captured the trap gold in a strong field.,``This is just the beginning of the season. I was disappointed with my effort in the World Cup. The wind had made it a lottery then. I was determined to defend my gold in this event, and I am very happy to have accomplished it ahead of the world champion. I was confident of doing well, and God has helped me to the gold once again. I was lucky, as Khaled missed a bird towards the end in the final, that opened the way for me,'' said Anwer, quite thrilled with his effort.

The 26-year-old Manavjit who had won the bronze in the World Cup was a shattered man, but being young he knows that experience is something that cannot be bought easily in the market. A shooter of considerable ability, energy and skill, Manavjit would have gained valuable lessons.

Han Fang of China shows the victory sign. She won the gold in the trap event.-Pic. S. SUBRAMANIUM

Though, he was beaten by two champion shooters, Manavjit knew well that the gold was very much in his control.

Mansher Singh missed making the final in a tie-shoot, but there was no question that the champion shooter was into his rhythm. In fact, all the three Indian trap shooters were in good touch, and it was no wonder that the team walked away with the gold, ahead of some of the very best that Asia had to offer. Like Anwer, the team also defended the gold.

It should not be a surprise if two of the Indian trap shooters find their way to the Olympic Games in Athens. Which two should be the question, for there is no doubt that the Indian shooters have their place among the best in the world, a point they had proved by winning the team gold in the World Cup. With coach Alexander Assanov of Kazakhstan set to join the squad, the hunt for the quota places will gather momentum.

In skeet, it was the 23-year-old Arti Singh who wrote a new chapter by clinching the silver. Arti had a chance to go for the gold, but was erratic in the final, that saw her fight for the silver. After three rounds of 23 each, Arti managed only an 18 in the final, as she missed three of the four birds at the fourth station. But Arti recovered her composure to show her strength by ensuring that the silver did not slip her grip.

Arti was one point behind the eventual gold medallist Jin Yan of China after two rounds, and three points behind after three. The Chinese missed five birds in the final, but the cushion of the earlier lead saw her clinch the gold with a five-point margin.

The fact that the defending champion Jia Zhou finished fourth following a tie-shoot for the bronze, despite a 24 in the final, should project the intensity of the competition and confirm the quality of Arti's medal.

Having finished sixth in the Busan Asian Games, it was a morale-booster for Arti. She had finished fourth in the Lonato World Cup in 2001, when she shot a 70 out of 75 and followed that with a 21 in the final that helped her pip the Olympic champion. Arti shot a 72 out of 75 in the Grand Prix at the same venue the previous week, with rounds of 24.

If she retains her focus, and trains hard with sufficient support, Arti can make further progress.

The Indian men skeet shooters were unable to make an impression, in a world class competition, in which the eventual gold medallist Saeed Almaktoum of the UAE shot a world record equalling 125 out of 125 in the preliminary phase.

He missed two in the final but that did not stop him from winning the gold.

Amardeep Singh Rai, Naveen Jindal and Rao Inderjit Singh are capable of shooting much higher scores than the 115 and 110 that they managed, but that can be achieved only with the experience of many more international competitions.

Naveen Jindal, a polo player who has developed a strong urge to shoot skeet in recent years, has acquired the services of a professional coach from Peru, Juan Giha, to hone his skills and has vowed to shoot wherever possible to become better. It is such initiative that can bring about a welcome change to the image of the Indian skeet shooters, who have not won an international medal for ages.

Among the juniors, Birendeep Sodhi and Alok Singh excelled, clinching the trap and skeet gold medals respectively with consummate ease in three-member fields.

It is very important to keep an eye on such juniors, as it is the talented juniors who can ensure a better fare from the seasoned seniors, in the race of excellence.

Overall, it was a rich haul for the host, but the real challenge will be in the Asian Championship for pistol, rifle and shotgun in Malaysia, when most of the events will offer two quota places for the Athens Olympics. The Indian marksmen will have to be doubly prepared then to ensure that they grab a few quota places themselves.

Of course, the Indian women will be taining their sights on a quota place or two for themelves.

Now Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat alone has won the quota place with her air rifle silver in the Atlanta World Cup.

The results :

Trap: 1. Anwer Sultan (118, 24) 142 (5); 2. Khaled Almudhaf (Kuw) (118, 24) 142 (4); 3. Manavjit Singh Sandhu (120, 22) 142 (1); 4. Eric Ang (Phi) (117, 24) 141; 5. Saif Alshamsi (UAE) (117, 23) 140; 6. Yousef Al Mannaei (Kuw) (115, 23) 138; 7. Mansher Singh 115 (3).

Team: 1. India (Manavjit Sandhu 120, Mansher Singh 115, Anwer Sultan 118) 353; 2. Kuwait (Khaled Almudhaf 118, Yousef Al Mannaei 115, Khaled Alshuhoumi 113) 346; 3. UAE (Saif Alshamsi 117, Abdulla Alkendi 111, Rashed Alkendi 113) 341.

Women: 1. Han Fang (Chn) (68, 21) 89; 2. Ma Huike (Chn) (63, 17) 80; 3. Corral Gay (Phi) (59, 18) 77; 4. Zhou Chao (Chn) (59, 14) 73 (1); 5. Karjaejuntasak Supawan (Tha) (56, 17) 73 (0); 6. Piyaoui Buddhidha (Tha) (53, 17) 70.

Juniors: 1. Birendeep Sodhi 113; 2. Victor Khassyanov 9Kaz) 92; 3. Ankur Singh 88.

Double trap: 1. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (139, 41) 180; 2. Chen Shih Wei (Tpe) (135, 43) 178; 3. Shih Wei Tin (Tpe) (136, 40) 176; 4. Wu Min Lun (Tpe) (125, 44) 169; 5. Wei Hong (Chn) (127, 39) 166 (2); 6. Xi Jun (Chn) (128, 38) 166 (1); 7. Gaurav Sondhi 124; 16. Moraad Ali Khan 115.

Team: 1. Chinese Taipei (Chen Shih Wei 135, Shih Wei Tin 136, Wu Min Lun 125) 396; 2. China (Wei Hong 127, Jing Fan 124, Xi Jun 128) 379; 3. India (Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore 139, Moraad Ali Khan 115, Gaurav Sondhi 124) 378.

Women: 1. Dai Qiwen (Chn) 96; 2. Liu Zhongyan (Chn) 94; 3. Shagun Chaudhary 86; 4. Li Yuxiang (Chn) 82.

Skeet: 1. Saeed Almaktoum (UAE) (125 WR, 23) 148; 2. Nasser Al Attiya (Qat) (123, 24) 147 (4); 3. Zaid Almutairi (Kuw) (123, 24) 147 (3); 4. Sergey Kolos (Kaz) (121, 24) 145 (4); 5. Saeid Almutairi (KSA) (120, 25) 145 (3); 6. Gao Xiguang (Chn) (121, 23) 144; 17. T. Amardeep Singh Rai 115; 20. T. Naveen Jindal and Rao Inderjit Singh 110.

Team: 1. Kuwait (Zaid Almutairi 123, Mobarak Almutairi 119, Abdullah Almutairi 120) 362; 2. Qatar (Nasser Al Attiya 123, Masoud Hamad 118, Aziz Al Atiaya 119) 360; 3. Kazakhstan (Alexey Ponomarev 119, Sergey Kolos 121, Ivan Stroutchaev 119) 359; 7. India (Naveen Jindal 110, Rao Inderjit Singh 110, Amardeep Singh Rai 115) 335.

Women: 1. Jin Yan (Chn) (72, 20) 92; 2. Arti Singh (69, 18) 87; 3. Yu Mei Wang (Hkg) (62, 23) 85 (2); 4. Zhou Jia (Chn) (61, 24) 85 (1); 5. Sutiya Jiewchaloemmit (Tha) (58, 21) 79; 6. Ling Yun (Chn) (62, 16) 78.

Juniors: 1. Alok Singh 104; 2. Yaroslav Golchenko (Kaz) 80; 3. Devesh Rai 62.