Shotgun C’ship: Indian skeet has come of age

With the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) stressing on junior development, and the Union Sports Ministry in collaboration with the Sports Authority of India (SAI) providing all the funds and facilities, the talent has sprung up in admirable fashion.

Champion Anant Jeet Singh Naruka (centre) with silver medalist Angad Vir Singh Bajwa (left) and bronze medalist Man Singh.   -  The Hindu

Skeet has come of age in Indian shooting and it is pretty young. There was no place to stand, let alone finding a seat, when the 17-year-old Anant Jeet Singh Naruka won the men’s skeet gold in the 59th National shotgun championship at the JDA range in Jaipur on Wednesday.

Most of the spectators were shooters and their relatives. Many were former champions, who had heard a regular complaint over the years about the lack of young talent to push the old.

Skeet, in which you shoot two birds flying in the opposite directions, from the lower house and upper house, had regularly seen rich men, driving the best of cars and placed well in society.

There was a time when Arti Singh, the perennial women’s champion, who added another title to her collection this time, was tipped to be better than the men, in three rounds.

Shotgun is an expensive sport, and skeet perhaps drives one to burn a lot more ammunition to sharpen skill and strengthen the scores, as the world standards are close to perfection.

With the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) stressing on junior development, and the Union Sports Ministry in collaboration with the Sports Authority of India (SAI) providing all the funds and facilities, the talent has sprung up in admirable fashion.

It will be difficult for many to visualise a school student beating two of the finest skeet shooters in the country on way to the gold. Man Singh gave a fillip to Indian skeet by winning the Asian championship gold with a record 149 out of 150 in 2011. More recently, Mairaj Ahmad Khan, who owes a lot of his success to the new coach of the Indian team, Ennio Falco — the Atlanta Olympics gold medallist — clinched the most elusive Olympic quota in skeet for the country, with a seventh place in the World Championship.

The new format in which the knock-out phase with a 16-shot semi-finals, with stations 3,4 and 5, in operation, followed by another 16-shot duel for the gold and bronze, has possibly opened the gates for new champions.

“It is a lottery”, said Mairaj, who finished second with 122 out of 125 in the qualification phase, behind Man Singh (123). Anant Jeet Singh Naruka (116) was the sixth to qualify and won the most important shoot-off of his fledgling shooting career as he shot all four birds before Man Singh missed one.

“Angad had shot all four, and I had to shoot all four to stay in the race. I am glad I did. After that I had to go for the gold,” said Anant Jeet.

Arjun Mann another bright talent prevailed over both Anant Jeet and Angad Vir for the junior gold, to stress a healthy future for the sport. The juniors need to build better qualification scores to enhance their aspirations on the world stage.

In a remarkable coincidence, quite a frequent occurrence in this national championship, Anant Jeet was the latest to win the gold and not find a berth in the Asian Olympic quota event to be staged in Delhi from January 25.

Rifle shooter Imran Hasan Khan may have a genuine case, but the rest like Shahzar Rizvi (air pistol), Pemba Tamang (rapid fire pistol), Jai Singh (free pistol) and Anam Basit (women’s trap), apart from Anant Jeet, just defied the odds and the averages maintained over the season to beat the best.

Rahi Sarnobat was also not in the original list selected for the Asian championship in Kuwait, from which the Olympic qualification status was revoked by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), but the selectors, rectified the anomaly, on their own volition and not because she won the national championship in women’s sports pistol.

Forgetting the selection issues for a moment, it is a telling statement by Anant Jeet Singh Naruka and his ilk, about the strength of the roots in Indian shooting that promises to deliver many a priceless medal.

When the 65-year-old Paramjit Singh Sodhi, familiar as a trusted guide for the shotgun aspirants and experts, was shooting his way to the veterans gold in a galaxy of champions, one of the regular voices in the crowd exclaimed, “he is shooting like a 16-year-old”.

Thanks to the colts, Anant Jeet, Angad Vir and Arjun Mann, Indian skeet is young and kicking a lot of reputation.