Sheeraz Sheikh vindicated the coach’s faith in him in a telling fashion in a strong field, but stumbled out of the men’s skeet final early owing to lack of experience in the World Cup at the Karni Singh Range in Tughlakabad, on Thursday.
Competing in his maiden final in a World Cup, his fifth in all after the four last year, and understandably nervous in front of the packed gathering that was cheering him heartily, the 28-year-old Sheeraz missed early birds to finish sixth, with a total of 16 out of 20.
The European champion Riccardo Filippelli of Italy, quite intense through the final, beat compatriot Gabriele Rossetti, the reigning Olympic champion and World Junior champion 57-53 in the 60-shot final, for the gold.
Paul Adams who had topped the qualification chart with 123 out of 125 along with Rossetti, was lucky to squeeze his way through for the bronze.
Tino Laitinen of Finland had to shoot one of the last two birds to ensure a medal ahead of the Aussie, but missed both in the fifth station, to revive the fortunes of Adams.
Earlier, two-time Asian champion Sai Bin Futtais of the UAE had settled for the fifth place after having been tied with Paul Adams on 27, owing to his inferior qualification rank. It was a commendable performance to make the final for Sheeraz, who was backed by coach Ennio Falco to make the team in place of Amrinder Cheema who had stood second in the qualification process.
Resuming at 72 out of 75, Sheeraz shot 25 and 24, to equal his best of 121, which he had shot in the last Asian Shotgun championship.
There were many ahead of him after four rounds, but in the overall shuffle that happened after the last round, Sheeraz was tied on 121 with Timo Laitinen and Jesper Hansen of Denmark.
In the shoot off, to decide the last two berths from among the three, Sheeraz shot both the birds, while Hansen missed one. Laitinen smashed both to make the cut along with Sheeraz.
It was almost a flawless performance thus far, and Sheeraz had a dip early in the final and thus could not sustain his challenge for long. Olympian Mairaj Ahmad Khan, who had won the silver in the World Cup in Rio last year apart from the fourth place in the World Cup Final, had two perfect rounds in the morning but a round of 21 in the second on Wednesday, had taken the punch away from his challenge.
Overall, it was a very encouraging fare from the host which placed fifth in the medals table with a gold, two silver and two bronze medals, from among 19 countries that won medals.
China topped with six gold and six silver medals, and was followed by Italy with two gold and three silver and Australia with two gold and a bronze. Japan also finished ahead of India with two gold and a bronze.
Thailand and the US were the other two countries that managed to win at least a gold, from among 50 countries that competed in the World Cup.
The president of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), Raninder Singh, who presented the skeet medals, was delighted with the performance of the Indian shooters, and felt vindicated that the NRAI gave the right of choice for one berth in the skeet team to the national coach.
The mixed skeet competition will be held on Friday to conclude the World Cup.
Men: Skeet: 1. Riccardo Filippelli (Ita) 57 (WR) 122; 2. Gabriele Rossetti (Ita) 53 (123); 3. Paul Adams (Aus) 45 (123); 6. Sheeraz Sheikh 16 (121)2; 13. Mairaj Ahmad Khan 119; 32. Angad Vir Singh Bajwa 116. MQS: Arjun Singh Mann 110; Amrinder Singh Cheema 110.
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