India’s floundering marksmen

India failed to capitalise on the home advantage in the Asian qualification event, winning only four of the 35 Olympic quota places on offer.

Former World champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu failed to qualify for the Rio Games.   -  PTI

Missing the bus... London Olympics silver medallist Vijay Kumar.   -  Sandeep Saxena

Mohd. Asab won the bronze medal in double trap at the Asia Olympic qualifying competition but still failed to earn a quota place for Rio.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Annu Raj Singh too failed to make the breakthrough.   -  M. Moorthy

Even though Indian shooters did very well to win 12 Olympic quota places for the 2016 Rio Games, they failed to make appreciable improvement from the London Olympics, where 11 shooters combined to win one silver and a bronze medal.

From the time Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won the silver medal in double trap in Athens in 2004 to when Abhinav Bindra won the only individual gold medal for the country in Beijing four years later, India has always looked to its shooters to deliver medals at the Olympics.

With only 390 shooters making the cut from about 200 countries to fight for 45 medals, including 15 gold, it was important for India to put more shooters in the fray in Rio to increase its chances of winning more medals. Only Bindra, Gagan Narang, Sanjeev Rajput and Heena Sidhu could qualify from among those who competed in the London Olympics. Vijay Kumar, who won a silver medal in London, Joydeep Karmakar, who finished fourth, former World champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Asian Games gold medallist Ronjan Sodhi, World Cup gold medallist Rahi Sarnobat, apart from Annu Raj Singh and Shagun Chowdhary failed to make the breakthrough this time.

India failed to capitalise on the home advantage in the Asian qualification event, which offered 35 quota places for Rio. The International Olympic Committee revoked the Olympic qualification status of the Asian Championship hosted by Kuwait owing to government interference in Kuwait sports. The Asia Olympic qualifying competition was then allotted to India.

The Dr. Karni Singh Range in Tughlakabad had been refurbished at a cost of about Rs. 7.5 crore months in advance but the range was closed for further repair work before the Asia Olympic qualifying competition. This robbed the Indian shooters of precious practice time at the venue.

Mohd. Asab, who had won a bronze medal in the World Cup Final last year, won the double trap bronze but the Olympic quota places went to the top two finishers in the event. In fact, Ankur Mittal also made it to the final of the event but finished fifth.

Vijay Kumar finished fifth in the rapid fire pistol event.

Elizabeth Susan Koshy was fourth in the women’s rifle 3-position event where the top three won the Olympic quota places. Similarly, Akhil Sheoran was fourth in men’s air rifle where the top two earned the quota places.

Omkar Singh looked set to win a quota in air pistol but fumbled with a 7.9 shot in the final. Manavjit Singh Sandhu missed the final by one point despite shooting 73 out of 75 on the second day of trap.

Angad Vir Singh Bajwa shot 118 after a perfect 50 on the opening day in men’s skeet and missed the final by one point. The 20-year-old shooter, thus, lost the chance to fight for one of the four quota places.

Saniya Sheikh and Arti Singh made the women’s skeet final but found it tough to aim for the lone quota place on offer. In women’s trap, Shreyasi Singh missed the final in the shoot-off. Rahi Sarnobat missed the final by two points when three quota places were on offer in women’s sports pistol.

Looking back, India had nine shooters in Beijing and eight in Athens. Of course, it has been a great improvement from the Sydney Olympics in 2000 where only trap shooter Anwer Sultan won the Olympic quota place. Abhinav Bindra and Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat were given the “hardship quota” then by the international federation.

Interestingly, India had fielded eight shooters in the Los Angeles Games in 1984. Baljit Singh, Soma Dutta, Bhagirath Samai, Randhir Singh, Mansher Singh, R. K. Vij, Mohinder Lal and Harsimran Singh Sandhu had competed then.

Coming back to the qualification race, India won four of the 35 quota places that were on offer in the Asia Olympic qualifying competition in Delhi. Japan (5), Korea (4), Kuwait (4), Iran (3), Thailand (2), the UAE (2), DPR Korea (2), Qatar (2), Singapore (2) and Chinese Taipei, China, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan and Malaysia (one each) accounted for the rest.

Earlier, India had won eight of the 67 places secured by Asia in the World Championships in 2014 and 2015, apart from the World Cups last year.

Overall, Asia took its tally to over 100 quota places, with powerhouses in the sport, China (23) and Korea (17) leading the way.

India shared the expenses of hosting the Asian qualifying event with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which offered about Rs. 2 crore. The shooters and officials were provided free stay and food, and the entry fee — about $200 per event per shooter — was waived.

Thus, the host invariably helped the others to win Olympic quota places and prosper at its expense!