India’s big leap

Winning combo… India’s Gagan Narang and Joydeep Karmakar celebrate with their gold medals in the 50m rifle prone pairs event.-PICS: SANDEEP SAXENA

Despite fielding its second-string shooters, India outclassed the field with a haul of 49 medals (23 gold, 17 silver and 9 bronze). Kamesh Srinivasan reports.

India did not field its best team, but it didn’t matter. The host still came up with its best haul — 23 gold, 17 silver and 9 bronze medals — in the Commonwealth Shooting Championship at the Dr. Karni Singh Range in Tughlakabad.

It was indeed a huge leap for India which had won 12 gold, 10 silver and six bronze medals in the previous edition of the championship in Melbourne in 2005. In fact, it was even better than the nation’s performance at the last Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 where it had won 16 gold, seven silver and four bronze medals.

India’s showing clearly reflected the quality of its shooters. More than the medals that came pouring in, what was really heartening was that most of the Indian shooters came up with world-class performances. And the fact that some of them were very young indicated that the country had a bright future in the sport.

Missing from the Indian line-up were World and Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra, Athens Games silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, world record holder in double trap Ronjan Sodhi, seasoned trap shooters Mansher Singh and Anwer Sultan, World Championship finalist in air rifle Avneet Kaur Sidhu and the likes of Heena Sidhu and Harveen Srao, potential champions in air pistol. In the event, Gagan Narang took over the responsibility of spearheading the Indian challenge — he bagged four gold and two silver medals in three rifle events.

Narang was happy with his form at the beginning of a season that includes the World Cups, the World Championship, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. Ever since he missed the Olympic final in Beijing on the count-back after scoring 595 out of 600 in air rifle, Narang has been working hard. He has vowed to improve though it is not easy trying to focus on three events.

Samaresh Jung, the hero of the last Commonwealth Games, once again proved to be India’s dependable pistol shooter by bagging four medals — three gold and a silver. For one used to competing in four events, Samaresh had to make do with two events — air pistol and standard pistol. He lost the standard pistol individual gold to Gurpreet Singh, but was very strong in air pistol as he outclassed a bunch of youngsters including Zakir Khan.

Vijay Kumar proved to be too good in both the centre-fire pistol and rapid-fire pistol events as he picked up four gold medals. In rapid-fire, though, there was no competition for India as it was the only team in the fray. It’s a pity that the organisers still decided to award the team medal.

Sanjeev Rajput won two gold medals apart from a silver medal, and so did Gurpreet Singh despite a malfunctioning gun in standard pistol. In free pistol, Amanpreet Singh Jhham outclassed the evergreen Michael Gault, who had helped England win the team championship gold.

If the Indian shooters did not face much challenge in some of the events, some of them had to face top-class opposition in others on way to winning the medals. World champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu shot his best score of 146 out of 150 while bagging the gold in trap that also featured the Athens Games bronze medallist Adam Vella of Australia and Aaron Heading of England. Sandhu qualified for the final in style with a score of 124 out of 125. Australia pipped India by three points for the gold in the team event.

Mohammed Ashab and Vikram Bhatnagar won the team gold for India in double trap, but Steven Scott of England proved too good in the individual event. Similarly, Mairaj Ahmad Khan and Arozepal Singh won the team gold for India in skeet but finished behind Malcolm Allen of Wales who won the gold in the individual event. In fact, it was a heart break for Mairaj who lost the gold in the tie-shoot.

In the women’s section, Shweta Chaudhary did well to bag two gold medals in air pistol, while Anisa Sayyed Khan captured two gold medals in sport pistol. Neha Sapte, 18, was solid in the climax of air rifle individual event after India lost the gold to Bangladesh in the team competition.

On top… India’s Pushpanjali Rana and Shweta Chaudhary who won the gold in the women’s 10m air pistol pairs event.-

Meena Kumari asserted herself in the women’s rifle 3-position event though Lajja Gauswami and Tejaswini Sawant could only get the third position in the team competition. It was tough for Tejaswini to focus on her shooting following the death of her father during the championship.

Shreyasi Singh, 18, showed remarkable improvement by bagging the women’s trap silver with a National record-equalling effort of 89. She led with a 72 after three rounds of qualification, but lack of experience in the final, where the shooters do not have the option of a second barrel, denied her the gold. It was a creditable showing, particularly after the team had finished fifth.

Samaresh Jung… India’s dependable pistol shooter who bagged four medals — three gold and a silver.-

In women’s skeet, Arti Singh was close to winning an individual medal as she was among the leaders after two rounds, but she undid all her good work with a bad third round. Though India won the silver medal, three of its shooters finished at the bottom in the individual competition. It was a shock result for coach Zhang Shan of China — she had beaten the men in winning the gold at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 — who has been guiding the Indian skeet shooters very well.

The organisers once again insisted on counting the badges, awarded as individual honour to the top performers in the team competition, in the overall medals tally.

However, India was miles ahead of the rest and didn’t require the badges to boost its tally.

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V. V. KRISHNAN

For a better selection policy

Even without some of its best shooters in shotgun, rifle and pistol, India dominated the Commonwealth Shooting Championship.

Making it clear that the selection imbroglio in his case was just the tip of the iceberg, the World and Olympic champion, Abhinav Bindra (in pic), suggested that it was easy to formulate a healthy selection procedure that would immensely benefit Indian shooting.

Dismissing the view that he had been trying to get into the Indian team on the weight of his past achievements and not on current form, or that it was below his dignity to appear for selection trials, Bindra stated categorically that he would be the last person to take the place of a more deserving candidate.

“The stress on selection trials as almost the sole criterion is the problem. We need to give more points to international performances, perhaps within a stipulated period before selection. If the elite shooters find that they are falling short of points, they themselves would come and shoot at the trials to make up the points. The juniors who are trying to break through will also have a fair chance to stake their claim,” said Bindra.

When the elite shooters were getting government support to train and compete abroad, Bindra questioned the logic behind restricting their selection to domestic trials while their form could be better gauged in more intense international events.

Pointing out the fact that everyone, be it the government, the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), the coaches or the shooters themselves, wanted the best team to represent the country, Bindra questioned the rigidity in sticking to an unhealthy formula that was quite possibly “killing” Indian shooting.

“After all the confusion, which I am sick and tired of, I don’t know where I stand. At any stage, if I feel deep within that the pressure is too much, even if I shoot well, I may just step aside. So, the selection confusion is not exactly my problem, as I will just move on. What the system needs is a good selection policy. Am sure the coaches and the shooters agree with me, but may not stand up to voice their concern. We need to be pragmatic,” said Bindra.

Emphasising that there was no point in having expert coaches handling the team if they cannot have a say in such a basic thing as team selection and composition, or even be part of formulating a fair policy for all, Bindra pointed out that the best of coaches would themselves be at a loss to show results, without the best shooters making the team in the competitions that matter. He also said it was sad that there was no pistol coach to assist the Indian shooters who have been making waves in recent times, particularly Heena Sidhu who won a World Cup silver last season.

“Indian shooting has been doing great over the years at every level. We should actually be fine-tuning the system to get better results, and not have procedures and policies that are counter-productive,” said Bindra, even as he wholeheartedly acknowledged the freedom and the fair degree of trust placed on him in the past that helped him scale the peak in the sport.

The indications were ominous when India failed to win a single Olympic quota place in the last Asian Championship.

Awarding the Olympic quota places will begin at the World Championship this year, and if the selection procedures are not fine-tuned appropriately, Indian shooting could grope in the dark.

THE RESULTS

Men — Air pistol: 1. Samaresh Jung (India) 685.3 (583), 2. Zakir Khan (India) 676.6 (576), 3. Michael Gault (England) 675.1 (574), 4. Omkar Singh (India) 674.3 (575). Team: 1. India (Zakir Khan 579, Samaresh Jung 579) 1158, 2. England (Michael Gault 571, Nick Baxter 566) 1137, 3. Australia (Christopher Roberts 568, Alfio Casagrande 559) 1127. Free pistol: 1. Amanpreet Singh Jhham (India) 657.4 (560), 2. Michael Gault (England) 645.2 (548); 3. Viraj Singh (India) 631.0 (538), 6. Bapu Vanzare (India) 617.4 (531). Team: 1. England (Michael Gault 545, Nick Baxter 537) 1082, 2. India (Bapu Vanzare 536, Viraj Singh 523) 1059, 3. Australia (Alfio Casagrande 523, Janek Janski 507) 1030. Rapid fire pistol: 1. Vijay Kumar (India) 775.0 (581), 2. Gurpreet Singh (India) 774.1 (581), 3. Pemba Tamang (India) 756.5 (574). Team: 1. India (Vijay Kumar 588, Pemba Tamang 564) 1152. Standard pistol: 1. Gurpreet Singh 567, 2. Samaresh Jung 565, 3. Vijay Kumar 564. Team: 1. India (Samaresh Jung 575, Gurpreet Singh 546) 1121, 2. England (Michael Gault 556, Ubhi Iqbal 541) 1097, 3. Wales (Steve Pengelly 553, Alan Green 543) 1096. Centrefire pistol: 1. Vijay Kumar 580, 2. Mahender Singh 568, 3. Viraj Singh 567. Team: 1. India (Vijay Kumar 586, Mahender Singh 573) 1159, 2. Wales (Allan Green 567, Steve Pengelly 564) 1131, 3. England (Michael Gault 565, Iqbal Ubhi 538) 1103. Air rifle: 1. Gagan Narang (India) 699.5 (595), 2. Sanjeev Rajput (India) 694.8 (591), 3. James Huckle (England) 694.0 (593), 4. P. T. Raghunath (India) 693.2 (592). Team: 1. India (Gagan Narang 599, 2. P. T. Raghunath 594) 1193 (NMR), 2. England (James Huckle 593, Ken Parr Jr. 592) 1185, 3. Bangladesh (Asif Hossain Khan 594, Shovon Chowdhury 588) 1182. Free rifle 3-position: 1. Sanjeev Rajput 1272.9 (1172), 2. Gagan Narang 1269.1 (1168), 3. Imran Hasan Khan 1259.6 (1161). Team: 1. India (Sanjeev Rajput 1170, Gagan Narang 1153) 2323, 2. England (James Huckle 1158, Ken Parr Jr. 1137) 2295, 3. Scotland (Graham Rudd 1135, Neil Stirton 1131) 2266. Free rifle prone: 1. Warren Potent (Australia) 697.5 (10.3) 595; 2. Gagan Narang 697.5 (10.0) 596; 3. Thomas Versace (Australia) 697.2 (595), 6. Sushil Ghaley (India) 695.5 (592); 9. Joydeep Karmakar (India) 592. Team: 1. India (Gagan Narang 596, Joydeep Karmakar 590) 1187 (NMR), 2. Australia (Robert Howell 593, Warren Potent 589) 1182, 3. England (James Huckle 590, Richard Wilson 589) 1179. Trap: 1. Manavjit Singh Sandhu (India) 146 (124), 2. Aaron Heading (England) 143 (120), 3. Adam Vella (Australia) 142 (120), 5. Birendeep Singh Sodhi (India) 138 (119), 13. Anirudh Singh (India) 112. Team: 1. Australia (Adam Vella 98, Michael McNabb 96) 194, 2. India (Manavjit Singh Sandhu 96, Birendeep Singh Sodhi 95) 191, 3. England (Aaron Heading 97, James Sole 85) 182. Double trap: 1. Steven Scott (England) 187 (140), 2. Mohammed Ashab (India) 185 (139), 3. Vikram Bhatnagar (India) 183 (139), 6. Ajay Mittal 181 (137). Team: 1. India (Mohammed Ashab 96, Vikram Bhatnagar 91) 187, 2. Australia (Russell Mark 94, Nicholas Kirley 89) 183, 3. England (Steven Scott 96, James Sole 81) 177. Skeet: 1. Malcolm Allen (Wales) 143 (3) 119, 2. Mairaj Ahmed Khan (India) 143 (2) 120, 3. Arozepal Singh (India) 139 (6) 119, 6. P. P. Singh (India) 139 (0) 119. Team: 1. India (Arozepal Singh 93, Mairaj Ahmad Khan 92) 185, 2. England (Rory Warlow 93, Craig Lakey 91) 184, 3. Bangladesh (Iqbal Islam 90, Nooruddin Salim 85) 175.

Women — Air pistol: 1. Shweta Chaudhary (India) 479.7 (380), 2. Annuraj Singh (India) 478.9 (379), 3. Pushpanjali Rana (India) 473.7 (375). Team: 1. India (Shweta Chaudhary 384, Pushpanjali Rana 371) 755, 2. England (Georgina Geikie 379, Julia Lydall 364), 3. Wales (Danielle Jones 365, Nicola Wilson 362) 727. Sport pistol: 1. Anisa Sayyed Khan (India) 776.5 (578), 2. Annuraj Singh (India) 774.6 (576), 3. Linda Ryan (Australia) 772.8 (576), 5. Rahi Sarnobat (India) 763.4 (570).Team: 1. India (Anisa Sayyed 582, Annuraj Singh 565) 1147, 2. Australia (Linda Ryan 574, Elena Galiabovitch 564) 1138, 3. England (Georgina Geikie 571, Julia Lydall 558) 1129. Air rifle: 1. Neha Sapte (India) 496.1 (395); 2. Sharmin Akhter Ratna (Bangladesh) 494.5 (394); 3. Robyn Van Nus (Australia) 494.2 (394), 6. Priya Aggarwal (India) 490.6 (391), 9. Suma Shirur (India) 390. Team: 1. Bangladesh (Sharmin Akhter Ratna 396, Sadiya Sultana 394) 790, 2. India (Priya Aggarwal 393, Neha Sapte 389), 3. England (Sheree Cox 390, Sharon Lee 390). 50m rifle 3-position: 1. Meena Kumari (India) 671.9 (575), 2. Lajja Gauswami (India) 670.7 (573), 3. Sharon Lee (England) 666.8 (571), 5. Tejaswini Sawant (India) 663.4 (565). Team: 1. Scotland (Jennifer McIntosh 573, Kay Copland 563) 1136 (NMR), 2. Wales (Jennifer Corish 570, Sian Corish 565) 1135, 3. India (Lajja Gauswami 571, Tejaswini Sawant 564) 1135. Rifle prone: 1. Johanne Brekke (Wales) 594, 2. Kay Copland (Scotland) 593, 3. Robyn Van Nus (Australia) 592, 11. Tejaswini Sawant 585, 13. Birmati 583, 14. Lajja Gauswami 582. Team: 1. Scotland (Jennifer McIntosh 592, Sheena Sharp 588) 1178, 2. England (Michele Smith 591, Sharon Lee 588) 1177, 3. Wales (Johanne Breke 588, Helen Warnes 586) 1174, 5. India (Lajja Gauswami 587, Tejaswini Sawant 584) 1171. Trap: 1. Kirsty Barr (NIR) 92 (70), 2. Shreyasi Singh (India) 89 (72), 3. Shona Marshall (Scotland) 86 (67), 7. Seema Tomar (India) 62, 11. Shagun Chowdhary (India) 58. Team: 1. England (Anita North 44, Charlotte Kerwood 43) 87, 2. Australia (Laetisha Scanlan 43, Catherine Skinner 42) 85, 3. Scotland (Shona Marshall 42, Linda Pearson 40) 82, 5. India (Shreyasi Singh 42, Shagun Chaudhary 36) 78. Skeet: 1. Elena Allen (Wales) 92 (68), 2. Sian Bruce (Scotland) 90 (67), 3. Cerys Evans (Wales) 86 (66), 7. Arti Singh 62, 8. Saniya Shaikh 56, 9. Rashmee Rathore 50. Team: 1. England (Nicki Brocklesby 42, Prinky LeGrelle 42) 84, 2. India (Arti Singh 45, Rashmee Rathore 38) 83, 3. Wales (Elena Allen 48, Cerys Evan 31) 79.