Near perfect score

License to shoot...Gagan Narang was the pick of the Indian shooters with four gold medals.

India won 14 gold medals in shooting. But the fact that 22 other gold medals in shooting were shared by England (6), Singapore (5), Scotland (4), Australia (3), Malaysia (2) and one each by Cyprus and New Zealand, showed that India had a lot of catching up to do in many events, despite its domination, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

The Indian shooters continued to be the backbone of the country's good performance in the latest edition of the Commonwealth Games, enjoying maximum success.

It was Gagan Narang, Omkar Singh, Vijay Kumar and Anisa Sayyed, who laid the foundation for India's leap to the No. 2 spot in the overall medals tally, as they shared 12 gold medals between them. The two other gold medals in shooting that accounted for 30 medals in all came through Harpreet Singh in centre fire pistol and the combination of Heena Sidhu and Annuraj Singh in air pistol.

Handicapped by a below par combination of rifle and ammunition that did not give him the chance to achieve perfection in a high-precision event like prone, Narang did not fulfil his dream of winning six gold medals, but four gold medals on the trot in two editions of the Games gave him a lot to savour. In most cases, the scores were world class and thus the medals were well earned with new games records.

The Commonwealth Games has always been the platform for young shooters to launch their careers and it was a good opportunity for someone like Heena Sidhu, the 21-year-old student of dentistry from Patiala, to feel the pulse of home pressure. She did miss the air pistol individual gold by 0.3 points, but had already made her mark by winning a silver in the World Cup earlier this year. Here Sidhu admitted that she had focused too hard and so was not left with enough energy or mental fortitude to mount a strong finish in the crunch rounds.

Harpreet Singh, the strongly-built navy marksman based in Coimbatore, was also able to sneak in a gold medal when Vijay Kumar faltered in the centre fire pistol. Though Harpreet was nowhere near the class of Jaspal Rana, who used to dominate the event till the last Asian Games in Doha, he did rise to the occasion in a brilliant fashion to pocket the gold.

Anisa Sayyed, the cheerful Railway employee, was happy to shrug off her below par performance in the pairs competition in sport pistol, when compatriot Rahi Sarnobat performed brilliantly, scoring 584. Anisa bounced back in style in the individual event, to beat the field by a huge margin.

While the gold medals were won with authority, except in the women's air pistol pairs event, where India squeaked through in a three-way tie against Australia and Canada, there were many agonising misses that prevented the host from improving its 16 gold medals record in Melbourne.

Some of the 11 silver medals that India won in shooting did shine as brightly as the gold and the shotgun marksmen, who have been consistently asserting themselves in the international arena, were beaten only narrowly. It required all the genius of two-time Olympic champion and four-time world champion Michael Diamond, who came up with a perfect 100, to deny the gold by one point to the Indian duo of Manavjit Singh Sandhu and Mansher Singh, who had shot down 197 out of 200 clay birds in trap.

Again, in the individual event, world champion Manavjit Sandhu was pushed to the bronze, for which he had to fight a shoot-off, thanks to outstanding performances from Aaron Heading of England and Diamond.

The crack combination of World Cup gold medallist, Ronjan Sodhi, and world junior champion Asher Noria, both of whom have world records against their name, missed the last birds in losing the double trap pairs event by one point to England. Both were in line for the individual silver on the next day, and it was Ronjan's strong nerves and rich experience that pulled him through whereas Noria had to be content with the fourth spot and hard lessons learnt.

However, rifle coach Stanislav Lapidus was quite bemused by the swinging form of world champion Tejaswini Sawant who managed to land just a silver in the women's rifle prone event, and felt that there could be ‘'deep reasons'' behind her below par fare in the team competition. Tejaswini was beaten by a world record equalling score of 597, as she could only manage 594.

She won another silver medal in women's rifle 3-position along with Lajja Gauswami and a bronze in the prone team event with Meena Kumari.

With the women's air rifle team losing its grip, coach Lapidus understandably felt that the Indian women rifle shooters should have won at least two gold medals.

The pistol shooters won 10 gold medals, but the champion of the last edition, Samaresh Jung felt that without an expert coach, it was difficult to lift the team to higher achievements, despite the strong potential. He was happy to win a silver and a bronze in standard pistol.

Overall, it was a mixed feeling for national coach, Prof. Sunny Thomas, as the total number of medals increased, but the gold collection was reduced to match the figure won in Manchester in 2002.

The fact that 22 other gold medals in shooting were shared by England (6), Singapore (5), Scotland (4), Australia (3), Malaysia (2) and one each by Cyprus and New Zealand, showed that India had a lot of catching up to do in many events, despite its domination.