Old rules still

Vijay Kumar... grit and guts.-Pics. SANDEEP SAXENA

With a fabulous blend of young and old attacking the big scores with vigour, there is no doubt that the future of Indian shooting is in safe hands. The new rules may only trigger a clutch of new champions. To that extent, Indian shooting promises to keep pace with the changing times, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

Indian shooting marches ahead because it does not believe in resting on its laurels. Three months after winning two Olympic medals in London, the best of Indian shooting was competing in the National Championship.

The only exception was Gagan Narang, the World Championship and Olympic bronze medallist, who was troubled by a knee injury.

With the scores from the National Championship forming the base for selection for international competitions, there was concern about Narang’s status, but the President of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), Raninder Singh, clarified that the national body had received advance notice from the shooter.

With the revolutionary new rules to be followed in the fresh Olympic cycle, there was an argument that the National Championship should have been conducted with the new rules. But, the NRAI stuck to the old format because there was little time for the shooters to train with the new rules. Moreover, there were many technical adjustments in equipment etc. which could not be carried out in such a short time. In fact, the international federation, ISSF, took its time in finalising the new rules, procedures etc., as they were set to be put into practice only in the first World Cup in March, though technically they have come into force from January 1, 2013.

The biggest change will be the zero start for the finals. The top eight in most of the events and the top six in some events, make the finals after tough qualification rounds. But they will not have the advantage of the lead enjoyed from the qualifying scores, as was the case earlier.

The new format had already been tested in the Rapid fire pistol event in the last Olympic cycle, and Vijay Kumar adapted so beautifully to it that he ended up winning the silver medal in the London Games ahead of world champion Alexei Klimov of Russia, who had shot a world record in qualification.

The new rules may open up the sport a lot more for those Indian shooters, who are not able to reach world standards consistently.

Vijay Kumar asserted himself yet again by winning the Rapid fire pistol in the national championship to put the icing on the cake, on a well-conducted event that attracted more than 2300 shooters from all over the country.

To put your reputation in line so early after the Olympics called for guts, and Vijay, who had to endure rounds of one and two points in the final against a maximum of five, came through unscathed.

World and Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra was beaten on the last shot by Chain Singh of Army, but it will call for plenty of hard training for anyone to reach the level of Bindra who has mastered the sport, and has been quite positive about getting a feel of the new rules. As a strong final shooter, Bindra will be happy with the new format, though the knock-out pattern may be a bit tricky.

Former world champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu was a class act in trap, as he showed reserves of physical and mental energy to tackle the competition so soon after he had won the Asian championship from a classy field in Patiala. Sandhu reveres the national championship, and was happy to give it his best, though he was pushed to the tie-shoot for the gold by Birendeep Sodhi.

Athens Games silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won the double trap gold yet again and revealed that he was confused about continuing as a competitor. Asian Games gold medallist Ronjan Sodhi missed being the national champion yet again, but was happy with the way he continued to fare strongly in the final.

Parampal Singh Guron who had missed the Olympic berth by one point in the last Asian Championship in Doha, shot 120 out of 125 again to win the men’s skeet gold, with a perfect round in the final. He promised to get it right for the next Games in Rio.

Olympians Heena Sidhu and Annu Raj Singh also ended up 1-2 in air pistol, but Sushma Singh was able to regain her best touch and fired her way past Olympian Rahi Sarnobat and the Commonwealth Games star Anisa Sayyed in sport pistol.

Apurvi Chandela from Rajasthan was the new face to shine in women’s air rifle as she pipped another youngster, Pooja Ghatkar, by 0.2 point, in a strong field that had the best of names like Anjali Bhagwat who was fresh from winning the Asian bronze in China and the world record holder Suma Shirur.

World champion in prone, Tejaswini Sawant was able to pick another gold in the women’s riifle 3-position event, but Olympian Deepali Deshpande was able to assert her class yet again in prone. She has taken up coaching in recent times.

While Arti Singh was able to assert herself in women’s skeet, bagging the national title for the 14th time, Olympian Shagun Chowdhary who had placed fourth in the last World Championship failed to make the trap final. Shreyasi Singh was able to trap that gold ahead of Seema Tomar, while Ria Rajeshwari Kumari, daughter of six-time Olympian Randhir Singh, climbed up from the junior ranks to take the bronze.

Olympian Sanjeev Rajput was a class act in the men’s rifle 3-position event, but he could not catch up with the eventual champion Surendra Singh Rathod. Amanpreet Singh who had won the ‘Champion of Champions’ title in pistol two years ago was able to clinch his maiden national title in air pistol.

However, the honour of winning the ‘Champion of Champions’ title in pistol this time went to the seasoned Sonia Rai, as she beat a strong field of men and women shooters to pocket the prize of Rs.50,000. Sonia had become the first Indian pistol shooter, male or female, to win a World Cup medal in 2006, and she was able to find the hunger to excel again.

The ‘Champion of Champions’ in rifle was the young Akhil Sheoran, who had won the youth and junior gold earlier.

With a fabulous blend of young and old attacking the big scores with vigour, there is no doubt that the future of Indian shooting is in safe hands. The new rules may only trigger a clutch of new champions.

To that extent, Indian shooting promises to keep pace with the changing times.

* * * A blazing comeback

She has been known all along as shooting prodigy Jaspal Rana’s sister, despite winning a bucketful of medals in the National Championships and the National Games, with many national records to boot.

Sushma Singh (in pic) today may be known more as the daughter-in-law of Rajnath Singh, the former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Union Minister and BJP president, but she has regained her identity as an excellent shooter.

Winning the National Championship gold ahead of three very fine shooters, Olympian Rahi Sarnobat and Annu Raj Singh apart from Anisa Sayyed, who had rocked the Commonwealth Games in 2010, the 33-year-old Sushma announced that she was serious about her comeback.

Of course, she has been highly skilled in the 25-metre sports pistol event, with rapid fire as her strong point, as she had made World Cup finals in the event way back in 2004 in Bangkok. She had shot excellent scores of 582 and 583 in 2004 and 2007, in the World Cups, and had also made the season-ending World Cup Finals.

In the National Championship in Delhi, Sushma shot 580 in qualification and beat Rahi — who had taken a three-point lead at that stage — eventually by a margin of 1.1 points.

This was no mean achievement as Rahi, an excellent shot in the finals, had scored all 10s with her 20 shots on way to winning the bronze medal in the World Cup in Fort Benning in 2011. This had got her the Olympic berth as well.

Sushma’s father Narayan Singh Rana, who had groomed his three children, Subhash Rana being the third, into excellent shooters, was confident even before the final that his daughter would win.

“I was dying to come back,” said Sushma. The petite lady had taken a two-year sabbatical from the sport, as she nursed her second child, a son.

“My daughter Dia is six years now, and she wanted me to bring a medal,” recalled the proud mother.

Sushma had it in her to make the World Championship team in 2010, twelve years after she had made the World Championship debut in Barcelona as a junior.

With doting husband Amit Singh Pankaj extending all support to Sushma, who had won the Commonwealth Games gold in 2006 in Melbourne, she will be free to train as much as required to regain her spot in the national squad and achieve higher levels of excellence.

Actually, it would only be family reunion as Jaspal Rana has become the national coach for the juniors and one can always find Narayan Singh Rana, the former sports minister of Uttarakhand, doing rounds at the shooting ranges, even as he handles Jaspal’s shooting academy in Dehra Dun.

Sushma Singh is ready to rewrite some of the national records that she had once owned, and possibly strike it hot in the international arena. Winning tastes quite sweet, and Sushma wants to make a habit of it.

Kamesh Srinivasan