Rathore tightens his grip

MAJOR Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's Olympic silver medal is already a part of the shooting folklore that none stops to narrate.

KIRTI PATIL

Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore celebrates after winning the men's double trap title. — Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

MAJOR Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's Olympic silver medal is already a part of the shooting folklore that none stops to narrate. The connoisseurs of shooting will appreciate the medal's worth more if they were to be told that Rathore achieved that with an incorrect grip.

For six years since he got his Perazzi gun, Rathore held its butt very close to the trigger. "I was holding the gun in such a way that I was forced to look down to see the firing line of the bullet. Also, there was unnecessary strain on the wrist with that kind of grip,'' says Rathore.

Manavjit Singh Sandhu, who won the gold in men's trap, posing with Zorawar Singh (left -- silver) and Mansher Singh (bronze). -- Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

The double trap champion is in the process of changing his grip and with that the gun too. At the 48th National shotgun championship in Tughlakabad, Rathore experimented with a different grip after modifying the handle of his gun and was pleased with the results.

Despite haze reducing the visibility, Rathore had a series of 48, 44 and 45 to make the final with a five-point lead over the defending champion, Moraad Ali Khan. A confident 46 in the final helped Rathore reclaim the double trap title with an impressive aggregate of 183 out of 200, considering that he had changed his grip just two days before the competition. Though Olympics offers an altogether different level of competition, the fact is that Rathore's Olympic silver came with a score of 179 — with a kind of uncomfortable grip that experts had termed incorrect.

"I realised that my grip was incorrect just three months before the Olympics but my coach suggested to continue with it as the Games were too close to experiment with a new hold,'' says Rathore. After winning the quota place for Olympics, Rathore had been on intensive training and understandably didn't want to jeopardise his chances.

Allan Daniel Peoples, the senior and junior skeet champion, being chaired by a team-mate.-

The Nationals provided an apt stage for Rathore to experiment with new grip. Now that he plans to buy a new gun with a handle to sustain the correct grip, the championship became all the more important.

The kind of scores the double trap shooters achieved notwithstanding the infamous Delhi weather at the onset of winter — mist in the air and the sun hiding for most part of the day — it augurs well for the Indian shooting in the coming future.

"As a team and on current form we can win gold in the World championship,'' boasts Moraad Ali Khan. "We have been shooting well both in practice and competitions and that is a good sign for us,'' he added.

The year 2005 will be a real test as Rathore's Olympic medal has already raised the expectations. In each discipline, there will be just one Olympic quota on offer in 2005 — at the World championships. Then it will be a long road ahead before a packed 2006 dawns with Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and World shotgun championship.

While Rathore and Moraad are up there, double trap field has suddenly become competitive with Gaurav Sondhi taking the plunge after a gap of about 18 months. Though Ronjan Sodhi claimed the bronze medal ahead of Sondhi, the fight for the third spot in the national squad is surely open.

Shagun Choudhary who won the women's trap and double trap events. — Pics. R. V. MOORTHY AND S. SUBRAMANIUM-

Sondhi blasted 129 just like that, without a proper match-practice and there will be three more tournaments before the National team for 2005 is picked. The National championship was the first of the designated trial, and it evoked a kind of response never anticipated by the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI).

Till last year, the total number of entries in the shotgun Nationals hovered around 60 odd shooters. In 2004, each discipline, trap, double trap and skeet had 60-plus entries something that was unheard of in India.

The change is obvious and the factor is also apparent. And, Major Rathore doesn't shy away from all the attention he is getting. "It's good that youngsters are coming up and looking at shooting as a sport,'' Rathore said after the 19-year-old Allan Daniel Peoples struck gold medal in skeet.

Of the three shotgun disciplines, India's international record in skeet has been dismal so far. Versatile sportsman Naveen Jindal gave a ray of hope when he won the National title in 2003 with a record score of 144. He was 28 then, and within a year, Peoples has brought skeet to a new level.

Making it to the final with 117, Peoples grabbed gold medal with an aggregate of 139 leaving Sarvdeep Mann (137) at second place. Former champion Amardeep Singh Rai (136) had to be satisfied with the bronze medal.

Peoples, a second year history student of St. Stephens College, has achieved it in just two years of training. Peoples, who represented Infantry Kids, started shooting in 2002 with his father, Col. I. J. Peoples, giving him lessons. That he won silver in the junior section of double trap, is yet another statement of Peoples' calibre.

In trap, Manavjit Singh Sandhu was unstoppable. With two perfect rounds and three 24s, Manavjit opened up a four point lead over Zorawar Singh (118), going into the final. As haze made sighting difficult, Manavjit settled for 23 in the final for a total of 145, tying his personal best score.

``The birds were dull towards the end, but since the conditions were the same for everybody I can't really complain,'' Manavjit said. "But if anyone has shot a low score in the final, it is not a reflection on their shooting ability,'' he emphasised.

The results Trap:

Men: 1. Manavjit Singh Sandhu (Pun) (122, 23) 145, 2. Zorawar Singh (IA) (118, 20) 138, 3. Mansher Singh (AP) (116, 21) 137, 4. Anirudh Singh (Utr) (116, 19) 135, 5. Darius Chenai (AP) (113, 21) 134, 6. Birendeep Sodhi (IA) (111, 19) 130.

Team: 1. Andhra Pradesh (Chenai, Gautam Gianchandani, Mansher Singh) 328, 2. Delhi (Azam Khan, Karan Kumar, S. Irshad Kazim) 308, 3. Tamil Nadu (R. Prithviraj Tondaiman, R. Venkatram, N. Bakthavatchalam) 307.

Junior men: 1. Birendeep Sodhi (IA) 111 (won 8th tie-shoot bird), 2. R. Venkatram (TN) 111, 3. R. Prithviraj Tondaiman (TN) 105.

Women: 1. Shagun Choudhary (Raj) 60, 2. Zoya Mehta (Pun) 47, 3. Rajshree Chhetri (Army) 38.

Double trap:

Men: 1. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (Army) (137, 46) 183, 2. Moraad Ali Khan (UP) (132, 44) 176, 3. Ronjan Sodhi (Cht) (132, 40) 172, 4. Gaurav Sondhi (UP) (129, 34) 163, 5. Vikram Bhatnagar (Del) (120, 40) 160, 6. Mohammed Ashab (Inf) (120, 33) 153.

Team: 1. Army (Hem Raj, D. B. Thapa, Rathore) 375, 2. Uttar Pradesh (Shyam Singh Yadav, Moraad Ali Khan, Sondhi) 360, 3. Delhi (Azam Khan, Bhatnagar, Harpreet Mandla) 333.

Junior men: 1. Mohammed Ashab (Inf) 120 NR (old 110), 2. A. D. Peoples (Inf) 119, 3. Anant Shivan Pratap Singh (UP) 109.

Junior team: 1. Infantry Kids (Ashab, Peoples, Masad Ahmed Rizvi) 333, 2. Delhi (Nitin Kumar, Yoginder Singh, Sangram Dahiya) 273, 3. Uttar Pradesh (Syed Rehanuddin, Vikramjeet Singh, Sahul Rizvi) 258.

Women: 1. Shagun Choudhary (Raj) (26, 26, 27) 79 NR (old 71), 2. Seema Tomar (Army) (27, 24, 23) 74, 3. Varsha Tomar (Army) (24, 17, 23) 64.

Jr. women: Mansi Ramendra (UP) (5, 6, 15) 26. Skeet:

Men: 1. A. D. Peoples (Inf) (117, 22) 139, 2. Sarvdeep Mann (Har) (114, 23) 137, 3. Amardeep Singh Rai (Cht) (115, 21) 136, 4. Rao Inderjit Singh (114, 21) 135 (won on 5th station tie-shoot), 5. Naveen Jindal (Cht) (114, 21) 135, 6. Ashok Pun (Army) (114, 20) 134.

Team: 1. Chhattisgarh (Jindal, Mairaj Ahmed Khan, Amardeep Singh Rai) 340, 2. Haryana (Mann, Inderjit Singh, Shivender Bahl) 329, 3. Andhra Pradesh (Amit Sanghi, Gusti Noria, Raj Gopal Reddy) 321.

Junior men: 1. A. D. Peoples (Inf) 117, 2. Yasser Tanvir (IA) 104, 3. Devesh Rai (Del) 90.

Women: Arti Singh Rao (Del) (22, 22, 23) 67.