A golden start in shooting will be the best way forward for the Indian contingent on its first day of competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, with the responsibility falling on two of the country’s best shooters in the 10m air rifle, Apurvi Chandela and Elavenil Valarivan, who have dominated the event and taken turns to be world No.1.
After the breakthrough of Anjali Bhagwat and Suma Shirur, who made the Olympic final in the event at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, respectively, India has never had it this bright in the event.
Apurvi won two World Cup gold medals in 2019 before the pandemic and shot a world record 252.9 in the Delhi final. That record still stands against her name and is better than the men’s mark.
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The 28-year-old Apurvi, competing in her second Olympics after Rio, has the rich experience of navigating the tensions of the Olympic stage and shooting her best. A recent dip in her scores has only helped her focus a lot more on her craft.
The 21-year-old Elavenil, a prodigy trained by Olympic medallist Gagan Narang, will be happy to prove her class, having been given the Olympic spot won by world championships silver medallist Anjum Moudgil.
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From being the junior world championships silver medallist in 2018, Elavenil has come a long way, winning the World Cup gold in Rio and the World Cup Final gold in Putian, China, in 2019.
Both Apurvi and Elavenil have the ability to put up high scores in qualification, and that provides the foundation for their confidence and builds rhythm for them to strike it big in the 24-shot final.
None of the Olympic medallists in Rio will be present in the field, but that will not make the task easier for the aspirants. Twenty-year-old Mary Carolyn Tucker of the US and the 19-year-old Eszter Meszaros of Hungary, who won the World Cup gold in Delhi and Croatia, respectively, this season will be the ones to follow.
In the 10m men’s air pistol, India has Saurabh Chaudhary and Abhishek Verma, who have also taken turns to be world No. 1 in the event. No one would have ever imagined that Indian shooting would go into the first day of the Olympics with four shooters who have all topped the world rankings.
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It is no surprise though, as India has been quite dominant, especially in the rifle and pistol events, topping the medals table in a series of World Cups till the one in Delhi in March.
Both Saurabh and Abhishek have taken the quickest steps to reach the top of the world, starting with their maiden international exposure at the Asian Games in Palembang in 2018. Saurabh won the gold and Abhishek a bronze at the Games, amid a world-class field, to launch their shooting careers in splendid style.
Four-time Olympic gold-medallist and the reigning world champion Jin Jongoh of Korea will be gunning for his second air pistol gold. Since he will be missing the free pistol, the Korean will be all the more sharp in the air pistol.
Saurabh had the final world record against his name at 246.3 before it was improved to 246.5 by Kim Song Guk of Korea at the Asian Championships in Doha.