What a policy!

Top gun… Zorawar Singh Sandhu who won the men's trap gold. He beat a strong field with a 24 in the final.-PICS: SANDEEP SAXENA

With a little more fine-tuning of the NRAI policy, Indian shooting can become the envy of the entire sporting fraternity in the country, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

Shooting stands out in Indian sports not just for its rich results, but its unique policies. Indian shooting might boast of Olympic, World and Asian champions, but all of them have to fall in line and compete in the National Championship to earn their berths in the National squad every season.

This does not happen in Indian tennis, or for that matter in badminton, where the star players can focus on the international circuit and ensure good ranking to walk into the National squad. In shooting, the champions are literally brought down to the earth, thereby giving an opportunity to the aspirants to have a go at their egos. More often than not the champions are quite vulnerable in the National Championship and the National selection trials as they are generally exhausted after taking part in the international circuit. The others, on the other hand, are fresh and hungry for success.

The 55th National Shotgun Championship at the Karni Singh Range in Tughlakabad was a case in point as two of India's finest shotgun marksmen, Ronjan Sodhi (double trap) and Manavjit Singh Sandhu (trap), bit the dust. They were clearly exhausted after participating in the Asian Championship in Doha, Qatar. Incidentally, former world champion Manavjit, who had won the last of the quota places for his third successive Olympics with a five-point margin over a strong field in Doha a few days before the Nationals, was also battling ill-health.

Ronjan, who brought India its only gold medal in shooting at the last Asian Games in Guangzhou, had defended his World Cup Final gold in a season in which he had won a silver and a bronze in the World Cups. Thus, he had nothing much to shoot for, either at the Asian Championship or the National Championship.

New champion… Ajay Mittal, the winner of the double trap gold.-

Champions may have been sitting ducks in such a scenario, but the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) had put in place a policy in order to defend quality shooters by offering them merit points that would help them stay afloat in the National reckoning even as they grapple with poor form or ill-health. Thus, for the selection for the London Olympics, Ronjan had nine merit points, towering head and shoulders over the rest. With the scores in the National Championship, along with the two trials, counted for selection to the National team and the merit points being added to the final average, it meant that the rest had to shoot 27 points more than the ace shooter to take the Olympic quota away from him.

Being wise, Ronjan also did not push himself too hard after leading in the qualification rounds with two others, including the eventual champion Ajay Mittal. In the Olympic year, a medal in the National Championship was not exactly a priority for Ronjan, who was happy to finish fourth, a point behind the Olympic silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.

In contrast, Manavjit was gunning for the trap gold at the National Championship despite being two points behind the leaders at the end of the qualification rounds. In the single-shot final — in which the shooters do not have the benefit of a second barrel — Manavjit was flawless on the first 17 shots. But he missed four thereafter, including three in a row.

Zorawar Singh Sandhu who had won the National trap title in 1998, was able to beat the strong field with a 24 in the final. As it turned out, the former Asian champion Anwer Sultan beat Manavjit in the shoot-off for the silver.

Quite ironically, Rajyavardhan Rathore and the seasoned trap shooter Mansher Singh had won the Asian Shotgun Championship a few months earlier, and Rathore had also shot a world record 148 out of 150. The introduction of the Asian shotgun event had forced the reshuffling of the National calendar, and the top shooters, understandably, found it hard to hit peak form very often in a cramped calendar. As it transpired, both Rathore and Mansher missed out on winning the Olympic quota places at the Asian Championship in Doha.

The newly crowned National champions, Ajay Mittal and Zorawar Singh Sandhu, however, found it hard to maintain their top run and floundered in the selection trials meant for the elite the following week. Of course, Manavjit continued to struggle as he shot 109 out of 125 in the first trial that almost put his Olympic quota place in jeopardy.

The skeet shooters also struggled to peak at the right time. Asian shotgun champion Man Singh, who had shot 149 out of 150, was unable to show similar form in both the Asian Championship and the National Championship. Parampal Singh Guron, who shot 120 and narrowly missed the Olympic quota place in Doha, was off-colour both in the Nationals and the selection trial.

On the mark… Shreyasi Singh won the women's double trap gold, setting a National record in the process.-

It saw Allan Daniel Peoples of the Army recapturing the National skeet title for the third time with a strong performance, while the young Smit Singh, a National junior champion, won the silver medal in the men's section.

In all the intense competition, it was heartening to see the abundant talent in the 12-year-old Manavaditya Singh Rathore as he shot the bronze medal with a score of 99 in the under-21 junior trap. He led the field with a 64 out of 75 on the first day. Son of Rajyavardhan Rathore, the young Manavaditya had participated in skeet at the last Nationals. He moved to trap only six months before the National Championship this year.

Equally refreshing was the performance of Ria Rajeshwari Kumari, the youngest daughter of Olympian Randhir Singh, the IOC member and secretary general of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). She overcame the initial jitters to land the bronze in junior women's trap.

Incidentally, Shagun Chowdhary, the women's trap Olympic quota holder, also went through a struggle, both in the National Championship and the selection trial, but five merit points — two for her world rank of No. 7 and three for her Olympic quota — should see her through despite uncertainties in form.

Indeed, with a little more fine-tuning Indian shooting will have a policy that would be the envy of the entire sporting fraternity in the country.

THE RESULTS

Men — Trap: 1. Zorawar Singh Sandhu 140 (116), 2. Anwer Sultan 135 (1) 116, 3. Manavjit Singh Sandhu 135 (0) 114.

Juniors: 1. G. S. Sharan 105, 2. Adhiraj Singh Rathore 101, 3. Manavaditya Singh Rathore 99.

Double trap: 1. Ajay Mittal 185 (138), 2. Sangram Dahiya 183 (137), 3. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore 182 (137).

Juniors: 1. Ankur Mittal 138, 2. Shayan Masood 135, 3. Asher Noria 135.

Skeet: 1. Allan Daniel Peoples 146 (122), 2. Smit Singh 142 (33) 137, 3. Mairaj Ahmad Khan 142 (31) 120.

Juniors: 1. Abbas Ansari 108, 2. Mohd. Hamza Sheikh 103, 3. Karam Sukhbir Singh 96.

Women — Trap: 1. Varsha Tomar 80 (60), 2. Shreyasi Singh 78 (6) 64, 3. Seema Tomar 78 (5) 64.

Double trap: 1. Shreyasi Singh 92 (NR), 2. Seema Tomar 80, 3. Varsha Tomar 78.

Skeet: 1. Rashmee Rathore 67, 2. Arti Singh 63, 3. Saniya Sheikh 62.