Former world champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu will make a comeback to shooting in the 61st National Shotgun championship to be staged at the Dr. Karni Singh Range, Tughlakabad, from Wednesday.

Manavjit, the six-time Asian champion, went into hiatus after the Rio Olympics last year. He had also won the Asian Games silver in Doha in tough conditions in 2006. The fact that Manavjit has not been able to get into the finals, let alone win a medal, in the last four Olympics, was a point to ponder for the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI).

Manavjit has been consistent. He shot the same score of 116 in both the Athens and Beijing Olympics. In the last two Olympics in London and Rio, he placed 16th, albeit with different scores of 119 and 115.

The NRAI has a new policy that kicks into practice with the National championship. It helps everyone to start with a clean slate, unless they merit bonus points for extraordinary achievements and impressive world rank. It may be recalled that Manavjit had won the gold in the World Championship in 2006 in Zagreb, and has not won a medal in a dozen other World Championships from 1999 to 2015. The point to be underlined for a shooter of such rare calibre as Manavjit, who has won two World Cup gold medals, is that one can never write him off, unless he loses the desire to compete.

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With everyone starting from scratch, the Shotgun Championship should be a lively competition featuring about 300 shooters in trap alone. The event will be spread over three days, with the second day featuring the women’s final. Interestingly, there will be about 50 women in the race for the title, including Varsha Varman, who has been pursuing her education in the U.S., and even tried rowing, among other activities.

MTS compulsory

The NRAI has made it mandatory for everyone to compete in the national championship to be eligible for national selection. The national championship will be followed by selection trials for the top-18, which will form the basis for the selection of teams next year for the World Cups in Mexico, Korea and Malta, apart from the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.

The selection trials later in May-June for the same set of top-18 shooters will help in identifying the shooters for the World Cup in Tucson, apart from the Asian Games in Indonesia and the World Championship in Korea.

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Having tightened the selection process in the last few years, the NRAI has also mentioned the Minimum Travel Score (MTS) as 117 and 67 for men’s and women’s trap, 133 for double trap and 118 and 67 for men’s and women’s skeet. Irrespective of national rank, a shooter has to shoot the MTS to be eligible for travel for competition abroad!

With about 250 shooters in men’s trap alone, it should be a shooting festival at the range. The president of NRAI, Raninder Singh, will find time to try and add to his two silver medals won in the last two editions.

All the leading shooters including Olympian Kynan Chenai, Zoravar Singh Sandhu, and Birendeep Sodhi, who competed in the Commonwealth Championship, and ace shooters-turned-coaches like Mansher Singh and Anwer Sultan, will make it a lively affair.

The NRAI is favourably inclined towards the juniors and thus youngsters like Akash Saharan and Manavaditya Singh Rathore, among others, will have a lot to gain from the fresh start.