The army Major has come a long way

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

Maj. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who is easily one among the top double trap shooters in the world, may well become the best in his business. — Pic. S. SUBRAMANIUM-

MAJOR RAJYAVARDHAN SINGH RATHORE is the one who can contest with Anjali for the best Indian shooter's title. From the time when he was initially denied clearance for competing in the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, to the time he was sanctioned more than Rs. 70 lakhs for the Olympic preparation in Europe by the same Union Government, the army Major has indeed come a long way.

If anything, the 34-year-old Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who has been in the sport only from 1998, when he started shooting with a gun that had two triggers for the two birds, and one that `kicked' like a mule with its recoil, has been channelising adversity to his advantage.

He was quite disturbed not to have been cleared in the original list for the Commonwealth Games despite his good fare in the World Championship in Lahti in which he had missed the final by two points and had also shot a rare 50 out of 50. Rathore responded eventually by clinching the team gold with Moraad Ali Khan and the individual gold in an outstanding fashion in a star-studded final when he beat the Olympic champion Richard Faulds with a 49 out of 50.

Rathore won the bronze in the World Cup in Delhi last year and went on to add the Asian clay pigeon championship gold the following week when he beat the Asian Games champion. Of course, the World Championship bronze in Nicosia last year was the icing on the cake, and Rathore once again showed nerves of steel as he shot a 48 out of 50 in the final. It was only the second World Championship medal for India in shooting after Dr. Karni Singh's silver in Cairo in 1962.

Unlike Anjali who has opted to keep a low profile this season, Rathore has been winning, albeit with caution not to peak too early. He won the World Cup gold in Sydney beating the former world champion Daniele De Spigno of Italy by a whopping eight-point margin. He won the Asian clay-pigeon championship in a competitive field in Bangkok, and despite a poor start he went on to add the Masters Cup title in Czech Republic at a range that was using the same machines as that would be in operation in Athens, when he shot the magical 50 once again.

More than winning the gold medals with ease and poise, Rathore has been training in Europe for the last few months, with some of the very best in the sport. Russell Mark of Australia, the Atlanta Olympics gold medallist and the Sydney Olympics silver medallist has been training Rathore, after having been denied a place in the Aussie team following the national trials. Mark had won the Olympic quota, but the Aussies have stringent methods to measure the form.

Luca Marini of Italy has also been training Rathore, and the Army Major has been gathering knowledge briskly in recent times, in his pursuit to be the best in the world.