Asian shooters battle for a place in Rio Olympics

The future of Indian shooting will depend a lot on how well the squad attempts to win the Olympic quota places in the Asian competition that will decide 35 spots for the Rio Games over the next week.

Some prominent Indian shooters, including Heena Sidhu (pic), have not yet made the cut for Rio Olympics   -  PTI

The future of Indian shooting will depend a lot on how well the squad attempts to win the Olympic quota places in the Asian competition that will decide 35 spots for the Rio Games over the next week, at the Dr. Karni Singh Range in Tughlakabad, Delhi.

The Asian shooters have been forced to go through the qualification process twice despite the likes of China and Korea being world leaders in the sport.

The Asian championship in Kuwait in November was supposed to be the last Olympic qualification event, but the status was revoked by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the last minute, owing to government interference in Kuwait’s Olympic Movement.

Six Indian shooters, Pooja Ghatkar, Heena Sidhu, Lajja Gauswami, Sanjeev Rajput, Manavjit Sandhu and Neeraj Kumar, were supposed to have reached the qualification mark then, even though such a projection had no meaning.

The fact remains that nine of the 11 Indian shooters who competed in the London Olympics — Vijay Kumar, Manavjit Sandhu, Ronjan Sodhi, Shagun Chowdhary, Heena Sidhu, Annu Raj Singh, Rahi Sarnobat and Sanjeev Rajput, are yet to win the Olympic quota for Rio.

While London Games silver medallist Vijay Kumar has stayed in the race despite a neck surgery, Joydeep Karmakar who had finished fourth in men’s rifle prone event in London, has not been able to make the Indian team for the qualification process.

Only the former World and Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra and the World and Olympic medallist Gagan Narang have been able to win the quota for Rio, so far, from among the seasoned elite. Of course, six new shooters, Jitu Rai, Apurvi Chandela, Prakash Nanjappa, Gurpreet Singh, Chain Singh and Mairaj Ahmad Khan have been able to make it a healthy eight for Indian shooting so far, in terms of qualification for Rio.

The home range may have been refurbished painstakingly at an enormous expenditure to host an event of such a magnitude, but it remains to be seen whether Indian shooters enjoy any home advantage.

There will be 538 shooters from 30 countries, with nearly 700 starts in 15 events, looking for the 35 quota places. The men’s trap and skeet will have four quota places each whereas the women’s trap and skeet will have only one spot each. The men’s and women’s 3-position rifle events, apart from women’s sports pistol, will offer three quota places each while the rest of the eight events will have two quota places each.

About a dozen shooters who already have won Olympic quota berths may participate, to gain invaluable competition, as a shooter can win Olympic berth only once in an Olympic cycle. Thus, it will be a tough task for the shooters fighting for the quota, as they have to fight right through the final. Unlike the Asian championship in which the Chinese were in full strength, the shooters will not have the cushion of making the final to ensure qualification.

The last time India hosted a World Cup, which offered Olympic quota places for the Athens Games, Ahmed Almaktoum of the UAE clinched the quota place at the Dr Karni Singh Range in 2003. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore placed third and missed the qualification spot, which he eventually clinched by winning the bronze in the World Championship in Cyprus. Almaktoum won the gold in Athens Olympics and Rathore the silver.

There is no further chance for the aspirants this time, as 309 quota places have already been decided — 74 in the World Championships, 136 in the World Cups and 99 through various continental events. Only the hardships quota will remain to be distributed, apart from the assured slots for the host Brazil in a few events.

Overall, only 390 shooters will make it to the Rio Games to fight for the 45 medals, including 15 gold. No wonder, making it to the Olympics is such an intense affair in shooting. Thus, it should be interesting to see the lively fare in the fight for the ticket to Rio.