Shotgun Nationals: Mairaj Ahmad Khan wins fifth career gold

After qualifying for the knock-out on top with a score of 120 out of 125, 41-year-old Mairaj Ahmad Khan had to win a three-way tie against Man Singh and Sheeraz Sheikh to make the gold match against Amrinder Cheema.

The top three skeet shooters at the Nationals (L-R) Amrinder Singh Cheema, champion Mairaj Ahmad Khan and Man Singh.   -  Special Arrangement

Mairaj Ahmad Khan is easily the best shotgun marksman in the country at the moment, but he had to be at his best to beat Amrinder Singh Cheema for the gold in men’s skeet in the 60th National shotgun championship at the JDA Range, on Wednesday.

After qualifying for the knock-out on top with a score of 120 out of 125, the 41-year-old Mairaj, who had shot 121 in the Olympics and 122 in the World Championship, had to win a three-way tie against Man Singh and Sheeraz Sheikh to make the gold match against Amrinder Cheema.

In fact, it was a long drawn affair as Mairaj pipped Man Singh 16-15 in the shoot-off after Sheeraz had lost the race early.

In the gold contest, Mairaj missed in the second station, but Amrinder too missed, opening the gate for the champion to strike in the climax.

‘’Once he also missed, I was sure of not giving him a second chance,’’ said Mairaj, even as he praised Amrinder Cheema for the high quality performance that made it lively for the packed audience.

Having lost the World Cup gold in Rio this year in a shoot-off, Mairaj was better equipped to handle the tight situations this time. Going into the last station, both were on 11, and Mairaj came up with a clean strike, while Amrinder faltered, perhaps under pressure.

‘’It was a great match. I had done a lot of work to get the silver. This is my best performance, and I am happy, even though I missed the gold’’, said Amrinder Cheema, a member of the national squad who has also trained extensively with coach Ennio Falco.

It was the fifth national gold for Mairaj, who had won his maiden title at the same venue in 2007. Former Asian champion Man Singh had to settle for the bronze ahead of Sheeraz Sheikh who was not at his best in the medal match.

The juniors were unable to make an impact the way they had done at the same venue in the last edition. Mohammed Hamza Sheikh did very well to win a four-way tie against former national champoion Parampal Singh Guron, the eventual national junior champion Arjun Mann and Baba PS Bedi, to gain the last berth for the knock-out phase in the men’s event.

Ayush Rudraraju who won a dramatic bronze medal, after being docked two birds by the referee during the medal round for the juniors, was below par among the men in the knock-out phase.

Rudraraju, a school boy from Hyderabad who had led after four rounds in both the men’s and junior sections, eventually beat Sukhbir Singh Harika in the shoot-off 4-3 for the bronze medal.

It was a repeat gold contest of last year, as Arjun Mann beat Anantjeet Singh Naruka 15-12 for his second successive national junior crown. It was a remarkable performance by Naruka, as he won a shoot-off against Subhash Chintalapati for the last spot in the knock-out phase, after the two tied on 112, before making the gold match in a commanding fashion with a 15 in the semifinals. Mann won the shoot-off against Rudraraju 6-5 to earn the right to fight for gold, and recaptured it once again.

Arjun Mann also had the distinction of helping Haryana to the men’s team gold along with Man Singh and Amrinder Cheema, as the team beat Uttar Pradesh on the count-back after being tied on 351.



Results

Skeet - Men: 1. Mairaj Ahmad Khan 15 (14)16 (120); 2. Amrinder Singh Kheema 13 (15) 117; 3. Man Singh 15 (14)15 (118; 4. Sheeraz Sheikh 12 (14)5 (118).

Team: 1. Haryana 351; 2. Uttar Pradesh 351; 3. Chhattisgarh 348.

Junior men: 1. Arjun Singh Mann 15 (13)6 (116); 2. Anantjeet Singh Naruka 12 (15) 112(5); 3. Ayush Rudraraju 11(4) 13(5) 119; 4. Sukhbir Singh Harika 11(3) 13(1) 115.

Team: 1. Punjab 327; 2. Rajasthan 311; 3. Madhya Pradesh 284.