New Delhi: Faced with a do-or-die situation in his own words, two-time Olympian Sanjeev Rajput battled the odds to secure India's 12th quota from shooting for the upcoming Rio Games by finishing fourth in men's 50m rifle 3 positions at the Asian Olympic Qualifying Competition in Delhi on Tuesday.
Owing to the 35-year-old marksman’s effort, India could be sending 12 shooters, their highest-ever, to the quadrennial extravaganza in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro come August. At the London Olympics four years ago, India had 11 representatives in shooting.
It also brought to end a three-day barren run that set in on day four of the competition.
Overcoming a broken barrel barely three days ago and a struggling 2015, Sanjeev shot 429.5 after an impressive comeback in pone in the eight-man finals at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range to earn the country another Games berth.
Sanjeev qualified for the finals in fourth position shooting a score of 1163. There were three quota places available in the finals and the other two went to Kazakhstan’s Vitaliy Dovgun and Thailand’s 20-year old Napis Tortungpanich.
India, however, missed out on a quota in men's skeet as Angad Vir Singh Bajwa narrowly failed to make the cut after finishing eighth with a score of 118 in the qualification rounds. Six top shooters play in the finals of skeet.
"I have had a tough 2015 where I had to change my shooting jacket and gun three times which affected my performances. Also, the fact that after I left the Navy in 2014 it took me a while to adjust to the change in lifestyle," Sanjeev said after his event.
The Asian champion added, "For this competition I had trained hard but the barrel extension of my gun started giving me problems in the last three days and I could not change it at this stage. This is why I was being inconsistent in the finals as I was finding it difficult to adjust otherwise I could have shot even better. I am hoping that my form starts improving more after this performance."
Expressing his delight, President of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), Raninder Singh said, "I am very happy to have won more Olympic quotas than last time but at the same time we also have to give a long hard look at the reasons why we missed so many of them after coming so close. In at least four events we missed quotas by a whisker."
"We will have a look at the players' preparations and training, review the work done by the coaches and officials as well as the federation's working and ensure that responsibility is fixed so that we continue to improve. There are no holy cows."
Referring to trap exponents Ronjan Sodhi, Mohd. Asab and Ankur Mittal, Raninder said, "Both the shooters in double trap are under government’s TOP scheme and we have often questioned. We may have to ensure checks and balances. We will take corrective action. Nobody is indispensable."
Among the eight finalists in the men’s 50m rifle 3 positions, three athletes - Korea’s Jonghyon Kim, Japan’s Toshikazu Yamashita and Kazakhstan’s Yuriy Yurkov were ineligible to claim quotas as they had secured quotas earlier.
Also, of the three Korean shooters who qualified for the finals, only one could claim an Olympic berth as Korea already had one quota in the event and a country can claim a maximum of two quotas per event.
Sanjeev was placed seventh after the first 15 kneeling position shots. It was good enough to secure a quota but he shot much better in the 15 prone shots series to register a score of 157.4 at the end of it with none of his shots going below 10.
He moved up to fifth position with the quota firmly in his grasp and though inconsistency returned in the standing position, Sanjeev maintained his fourth position, and was even in medal contention for a while.
The gold in the event was won by Korea’s Olympic silver medallist Kim Jonghyun, who claimed his second yellow metal of the competition, having won the men's 50m rifle prone event earlier. He shot 461.4 in the finals. Kazakhstan’s Yuriy Yurkov won the silver shooting 451.7 while Japan’s Toshikazu Yamashita bagged the bronze registering a score of 439.9.
Sanjeev was eliminated in fourth position with a score of 429.5 but won the first available quota in the event.
In the other event of the day, UAE's Saif Bin Futtais won the gold beating Kuwait's Saud Habib, participating as an International Shooting Participant, 13-12 in the gold medal match. Saaed Almaktoum, also of UAE won the bronze beating countryman Mohamed Ahmad 15-14. The four quotas in the event went to UAE, Qatar and Kuwait (2).
India's young talent Bajwa finished just outside the top six with a score of 118. A score of 119 would have taken him to the finals and would have got him a quota by default. Man Singh finished 17th with a score of 116 and Amrinder Cheema ended in 25th position after logging 112.
India, thus, along with Japan, Korea and Iran finished as one of the most successful teams in the competition. Japan won five quotas while India bagged four and Korea and Iran three each. This is India’s best ever performance in the Asia Olympic qualifying event.