More than a perfect 10!

Tejaswini Sawant (middle) really did India proud with a gold medal.-Pics: ISSF/WOLFGANG SCHREIBER Tejaswini Sawant (middle) really did India proud with a gold medal.

With a better system, that takes the inner 10s into account, the shooters need to improve their accuracy. It is not enough to get a 10 anymore, you need a better 10! Tejaswini Sawant got the gold by doing just that. Tied on scores with Joanna of Poland, she prevailed by virtue of more number of inner 10s, better bull's eye scores in common parlance, at 41 to 39!

The medals won were fewer when compared to the haul of five in the last edition, but it was clear that Indian shooting had moved a step forward despite all the hurdles in recent times. With three medals, two of them gold and a bronze, India did itself proud in the 50th World Shooting Championship in Munich.

The crowning of Tejaswini Sawant as a world champion, literally out of the blue, did reveal that Indian shooters were training hard, ready to pounce on the opportunity.

The healthy trend set by Abhinav Bindra in air rifle and Manavjit Singh Sandhu in trap, in the last edition of the world championship in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2006, was being followed.

Never mind that the Olympic champion Bindra was unable to defend his world title, as he shot 593 to be placed 25th out of 128. Or for that matter, Sandhu could place only 68th in a strong field of 158, as he could muster only 114. The baton of responsibility was just passing hands.

It is not possible for champions to stay at the top all the time. Bindra had achieved the rare feat of being the world and Olympic champion at the same time. Sandhu had done his bit, by bettering the record of Dr. Karni Singh's silver medal won decades ago.

The emergence of new champions shows the tremendous depth in the sport. In a season when the selection system had been tweaked so much, making it difficult for everyone, it was a great credit to the resilience of the shooters that they were able to stay on the road of progress.

The 29-year-old Tejaswini was indeed a class act. As coach Stanislav Lapidus emphasised, Tejaswini had trained so much and so well, that the dramatic improvement in her score was no surprise. She kept improving her score in the women's 50-metre rifle prone event to 594 in Hannover, to 595 in the elimination round and then to a world record equalling 597 on the day of individual competition.

“She is a good student. I didn't expect her to become world champion, but she did it. People spend years to improve their score by one point at the top,'' observed the Kazakh coach Lapidus, quite pleased that five of his trainees could touch their personal best during the world championship.

Well, even shooting a world record did not guarantee the gold for Tejaswini, as she was tied on 597 with Joanna Ewa Nowakowska of Poland. However, the Indian shooter prevailed by virtue of more number of inner 10s, better bull's eye scores in common parlance, at 41 to 39. That added to the thrill.

As national coach Prof. Sunny Thomas pointed out, Tejaswini could have written a new record against her name, as two of her shots were 9.9 and the other was 9.7. She was that close to perfection on August 8, a Sunday that she would remember all her life.

Gagan Narang's bronze medal in the 10-metre air rifle was worth its weight in gold, as the ace shooter was completely floored at not being selected for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, a fact that he got to know on the eve of his match. Samaresh Jung took the double world record holder on a long walk to assuage his feelings.

Thus, the grit that Narang showed to add a world championship medal to his rich collection was phenomenal. He came up with a 597 and followed that with a 102.0 in the final. He was 0.1 point ahead of three others in grabbing the bronze medal. It was that close. One of those to be beaten for the bronze was the Olympic silver medallist, Zhu Qinan of China, a name familiar to millions of Indian sports fans as he had cried inconsolably after losing the Olympic gold to Bindra in the Beijing Games in 2008. Narang had missed the final of the last Olympics on the count-back after a 595.

“I was ready to shoot 600'', said Narang, quite disappointed, in Munich. However, there was also good news for him as he qualified for the 2012 Olympics. With the top six shooters in air rifle being selected for the next Olympics, Narang booked his berth.

Asher Noria... breaking through with a gold in the junior section.-

Narang also asserted his growing stature in the rifle 3-position event with a personal best of 1171, just one short of the national record held by Sanjeev Rajput.

Hariom Singh was the other Indian shooter to win an Olympic quota place, as he finished sixth in the men's 50-metre rifle prone event with a 598. After the shock of the Indian spearhead Joydeep Karmakar not even qualifying for the main event after the elimination process, it was a pleasant surprise to find Hariom coming like a bolt from the blue. He had not represented India in a world-level competition before, and had benefited from the new selection policy that emphasises choice on the basis of open trials.

While world record holder in double trap, Ronjan Sodhi, could not deliver in the world championship, despite great form and a good track record, Asher Noria grabbed the chance with both hands to be crowned the world junior champion. He also equalled the junior world record with a 146 out of 150 and was just one short of the men's world record. The brilliant young man who had been waiting in the wings for some time made a giant leap with a series of 49, 49 and 48, as he beat the silver medallist, Alessandro Chianese of Italy by five points.

For the last two years, Noria had been giving notice of his prowess. He had won the gold in an International Competition for juniors in Suhl and had finished seventh in the junior event in the shotgun world championship in Nicosia in 2007. Noria was also 12th in a similar world championship in Maribor in 2009. From scores of 130 and 133 in those events, Noria catapulted to rub shoulders with the elite.

Noria joined Jaspal Rana as a winner of a world championship junior gold with a world junior record. The pistol prodigy had accomplished the feat in 1994 in Milan. More recently, Navnath Fartade had won the junior air rifle gold in Zagreb in 2006. Harveen Srao in junior air pistol and Rajkumari Dhodiya in junior women's prone event have also won world championship medals, both bronze, at the junior level.

If anything, Noria's emergence should make it more difficult for Olympic silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who had won a world championship bronze in 2003. Rathore could not make the team this time.

Noria, however, did not have good support in the junior team, and thus India missed a team bronze by two points.

As national coach Prof. Thomas pointed out, India missed quite a few medals narrowly. Heena Sidhu, the 20-year-old student of Dentistry, shot 382 in women's air pistol. She missed a berth in the final by one point, though she had an 8 on the last shot. The Indian team was placed fifth at 1141, while China, just one point ahead, won the bronze. Annu Raj Singh (381) and Shweta Chaudhry (378) are capable of much better things, and the fact that the Indians finished just four points short of gold medallist Australia should augur well in a season of hope for Indian shooting.

Vijay Kumar missed the rapidfire final by two points, following a 578 that placed him 11th in a field of 75. A below par 90 in the four-second series, on the last card, undid his good work. He had won the World Cup silver in Beijing last year with a 581, and should be gunning for the big medals soon.

C. Rekha shot 594 in the junior women's prone event, and was placed sixth, while the bronze went for the same score. It was somewhat similar in 2002 in Lahti when Shweta Chaudhry shot 382 in air pistol to be placed fourth despite the same score as the bronze medallist. With a better system, that takes the inner 10s into account, the shooters need to improve their accuracy. It is not enough to get a 10 anymore, you need a better 10!

Rakesh Manpat came up with an impressive 1160 in the junior men's 3-position event to be placed fifth. Rahi Sarnobat, another bright junior girl, was eighth in 25-metre sport pistol and 11th in the air pistol junior events, with scores of 570 and 375 respectively.

Overall, it was a satisfactory outing for India as it finished 14th in the medals tally with two gold and a bronze, in a strong field of 105 countries. Only 34 countries had managed to win at least a medal. China topped the table with 21 gold, 20 silver, and 11 bronze. It beat Russia on the total, 52 to 46, after the latter also won 21 gold medals, followed by 13 silver and 12 bronze.

India accounted for two of the 27 world records that were tied or set during the quadrennial championship. It was also one of 26 countries to win at least one of the 69 Olympic quota places that were on offer. Once again, China and Russia topped the list with nine quota places each, followed by Italy with six and the U.S. with five.

In a congregation of 2500 shooters, declared as the “biggest and best shooting competition of all times'', by the ISSF president Olegario Vazquez Rana, India did leave its mark.