More firepower needed

Winning only a solitary Olympic quota was a disappointment for the Indian team at the International Shooting Sport Federation Rifle/Pistol World Cup 2019 in New Delhi.

Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker won the mixed 10m air pistol gold at the New Delhi World Cup, and had topped qualification by equalling the world record of 778, but there was no Olympic quota to be won in that event.   -  PTI

As a fast-growing sport with impressive achievements at every level, Indian shooting has triggered the highest degree of expectations in recent times. When every other sport is compared with cricket to gauge its growth, shooting is compared with its own high standards.

A large pool of young shooters and seasoned ones who have weathered many a battle in the international arena gives the sport a very healthy look, from every angle.

It is one sport where the Indian coaches, many of them working sincerely right from the grassroots level to the top, have been financially compensated suitably by the national federation whenever the Sports Authority of India or the government has been unable to reward good work adequately.

From that perspective, winning only a solitary Olympic quota was a disappointment for the Indian team at the International Shooting Sport Federation Rifle/Pistol World Cup 2019 in New Delhi.

Saurabh Chaudhary, who could have won an Olympic quota at the world championships last year itself, accomplished his task in style, winning the 10m air pistol with a world record in the final. Interestingly, his score of 245, which bettered Ukrainian Oleh Omelchuk’s mark of 243.5 set at the Munich World Cup last year, was lower than Chaudhary’s own junior world junior record of 245.5 set at the 2018 World Championships in Changwon, South Korea.

As Olympian shooter Samaresh Jung pointed out, Chaudhary would have just about made the men’s final with his qualification score in Changwon, but the 16-year-old had already established himself with the Asian Games gold medal in an absolutely brilliant field in Palembang, Indonesia.

Rifle shooters Sanjeev Rajput, Tejaswini Sawant and Anjum Moudgil on the eve of the opening ceremony of the shooting World Cup in New Delhi.   -  Kamesh Srinivasan

 

In New Delhi, Chaudhary was undoubtedly the favourite as he shot 587 out of 600 in qualification. Few shooters can handle a final with such authority as he does, for he is able to focus only on the target — a trait, uncommon for one so young, that puts him above everyone else and places the expectation of a bright showing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Indian shooters have managed to win only three 2020 Olympics berths so far, from the two opportunities afforded them, with Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela booking their places at the World Championships with a silver and fourth, respectively, in the 10m air rifle.

Chandela was impressive in the way she consolidated her place in the Indian team with a world record in New Delhi, as Olympics quotas belong to the country and not the individual shooters who win them. Moudgil was quite good, too, even though she missed the final narrowly in both the 10m air rifle and the mixed air rifle with Ravi Kumar.

For those disappointed with India winning only one Olympic quota at the first World Cup of the season, it must be pointed out that the country was on a par with Australia, Chinese Taipei, Italy, Serbia, South Korea and Switzerland from among the 60 nations represented in New Delhi. Only China was able to assert itself strongly, with five quota places, and Hungary followed with two. Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker did win the mixed 10m air pistol gold, and had topped qualification by equalling the world record of 778, but there was no Olympic quota to be won in that event, after the World Championships.

Bhaker could have won a quota place either in the 25m sport pistol, in which she finished fifth in the final after qualifying second with 590 out of 600, or the 10m air pistol, in which she missed out on qualifying for the final by a single point after struggling to 573. Unlike Chaudhary, who focuses on one event and does not let the pressure affect him, Bhaker has to deal with the recoil of the powerful sport pistol and high expectations. Currently preparing for her Class 12 board examinations, she should be ready to launch a more purposeful assault at the forthcoming World Cups in Beijing, Munich and Rio de Janeiro in April, May and August, respectively, and may not have to wait for her last chance at the Asian Championships.

Unlike Bhaker, Heena Sidhu, who competed in the last two Olympics in London and Rio de Janeiro, has been able to retain her place in the national squad only in the 10m air pistol at the moment. She had a good chance to qualify for the final in New Delhi, but she undid her good work with a bad last series. Sidhu, however, showed her class in the mixed event, where she had a string of 10s on the last nine of her 40 shots.

Asian Games 10m air rifle silver medallist Deepak Kumar and Ravi Kumar, the bronze medallist in the mixed event, have the ability to book Olympic quotas, but both Indian Air Force men were below their best in New Delhi.

Sanjeev Rajput — who participated in the 2012 London Olympics but did not fly to Rio four years later as the national federation had traded the 50m rifle three positions for a trap quota — was unable to fire his best in windy conditions in New Delhi. Still, he remains a strong candidate for Tokyo, if he retains his berth in the national squad.

Freshman Ravinder Singh has been able to seal a place in the Indian men’s air pistol team, along with another relative newcomer, Abhishek Verma, who won the Asian Games bronze. But India has many more brilliant shooters, including Shahzar Rizvi, who won World Cup gold in the 10m air pistol at Guadalajara and silver at Changwon, and Om Prakash Mitharwal, who won gold in the 50m pistol at the 2018 World Championships and the 10m air pistol mixed team at the Guadalajara World Cup, and who was competing in the minimum qualification score — that an athlete must record at least once in a set time frame to become eligible to take part in the Olympics — section in New Delhi.

Apurvi Chandela consolidated her place in the Indian team with a world record in the 10m air pistol.   -  PTI

 

Though the International Olympic Committee withdrew the rapid fire pistol quota places from the New Delhi World Cup after India denied visas to two Pakistan shooters, Commonwealth Games gold medallist Anish Bhanwala showed his class by making the final and should be in the race for an Olympic berth, even as the seasoned Gurpreet Singh and London Olympics silver medallist Vijay Kumar wait in the wings.

The women’s rifle three positions event is the only one in which India does not have strong candidates, especially after Moudgil became ineligible for an Olympic quota as she has already won one in air rifle. Yet, she needs to be prepared for the Olympics, so she may shoot in the main event at the World Cup instead of in the MQS, along with the air rifle, while Gaayathri Nithyanandam and former world champion Tejaswini Sawant also aim for an Olympic spot.

The shotgun World Cups are scheduled to be staged soon, and those will see some of the best Indian shooters in trap and skeet vie for Olympic berths, to supplement the ones won in the rifle and pistol events.

There is a lot to look ahead for Indian shooting, and the season is still young.