They have already announced their arrival on the big stage with a bang but India’s young guns will have a tough outing in the Asian Games shooting events. The presence of shooters from China and South Korea provides a truly world class field and it will be a daunting task for the Indian shooters to replicate their success of the Commonwealth Games where they walked away with seven gold medals.
Manu Bhaker and Anish Bhanwala are leading the charge of the youth brigade in the pistol events. 16-year-old Bhaker has already become a household name in Indian sports, thanks to her gold winning feats at the World Cup in Guadalajara and the Commonwealth Games. She upstaged former world number one Heena Sidhu to bag the gold in the 10m air pistol event in the Commonwealth Games. Bhaker will be taking part in three events at the Asian Games- 10m air pistol, 25m sports pistol and the mixed air pistol event. She is aware of the burden of expectations and the workload.
“I do not want to put extra pressure on myself just because it is the Asian Games. To me, each competition is as important,’’ says Bhaker.
She is unfazed by the controversy surrounding her selection in the 10m air pistol mixed event and 25m pistol event. Sidhu who missed out on the two events had alleged that the National Rifle Association of India flouted their own selection policies to favour Bhaker.
“My job is to produce results. It is the job of the federation to select the shooters and now that I have been given the responsibility to represent the country in these three events, I will give my best shot.’’
Fifteen-year-old Bhanwala made a switch from modern pentathlon (a multi-discipline event consisting of equestrian, fencing, shooting, cross country running and swimming) a couple of years ago and had a resounding success in the pistol events. At junior level, he gunned down gold medals at the World Championship in Suhl, Finland last year and World Cup in Sydney this year. But the most memorable moment for the young prodigy in fledgling career was the Commonwealth Games gold in the 25m rapid fire pistol.
Another youngster, 16-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary topped the selection trials in the 10m air pistol even. He edged out the likes of Jitu Rai and Om Prakash Mitharval. Chaudhury and has been in red hot form creating a new world record on way to a title triumph at the Junior World Cup held in Suhl, Finland a couple of months ago. But the Asian Games will be a test of his mettle at the highest level.
Shahzar Rizvi, currently ranked world number one in the event came third in the selection trials thus missing out on an Asian Games berth as only two top shooters were selected in each event.
Alongside the youngsters, the experienced shooters in action in the pistol events include Sidhu and Rahi Sarnobat. Despite winning the Commonwealth Games gold in the 25m sports pistol, Sidhu has failed to make it to the finals of the two World Cup finals this year. Meanwhile, Sarnobat, who will take part in the 25m sports pistol event, is on a comeback trail after an elbow injury. She finishes fourth in the World Cup in South Korea earlier this year.
In the 10m air rifle event, Elavenil Valarivan, another prodigious talent from the junior ranks will be challenging the might of the Chinese and Korean shooters. The 18-year-old has been creating waves in the shooting circuit with some stupendous scores and have already bagged two junior World Cup gold medals this year. A product of the Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation, she has been mentored by Narang himself.
“She is one of the best junior shooters from India. Ela had to battle lot of odds because of her knee injury but she has bounced back. She has the childishness of a teenager but a very mature head on her shoulders,’’ says Narang about his protégé.
A serious medal prospect for India in the rifle event is Apurvi Chandela. The Jaipur-based shooter was on course for a gold medal at the Munich World Cup this year before a freak 5.9 robbed her of a podium finish. Another promising rifle shooter, Mehuli Ghosh who narrowly missed out a Commonwealth Games medal gold failed to make it to the team, a proof of the talent pool in Indian shooting.
In the men’s 10m air rifle, experienced Ravi Kumar along with Deepak Kumar will carry the Indian hopes. Veteran Sanjeev Rajput will be fighting out for the top honours in the 50m three position.
With the attention mainly on rifle and pistol, the spotlight is hardly on the trap and skeet shooters. However, former trap shooter and Olympian Mansher Singh has high hopes from the squad which boasts of a number of shooters barely out of their teens.
“The presence of so many talented youngsters is refreshing. With one of the powerhouses of Asian shooting Kuwait not taking part, our chances of a medal have brightened,’’ says Mansher.
The ageless trap shooter Manavjit Singh Sandhu will be competing in his sixth Asian Games. “He has an unfinished agenda which is an Olympics medal and this has kept him motivated,’’ feels Mansher. Lakshya Sheoran is the new face in the trap team having made a steady progress from the junior ranks.
Skeet has been the least popular of the shooting disciplines in India but there has been a surge in the popularity. Medals are expected from the young skeet shooters who have been training under Ennio Falco, 1996 Olympic gold medallist from Italy for last couple of years. Sheeraz Sheikh and Angad Veer Singh Bajwa will feature in the men’s events while Ganemat Sekhon and Rashmee Rathore make up the women’s team.
“We now have a very structured coaching set-up in place with Falco at the helm. The fact that a skeet shooter- Mairaj Ahmed Khan made it to the Rio Olympics was a big boost for the sport. The improvements have been showing and we are in the frame for a medal in the Asian Games,’’ believes Sheikh, a finalist in the 2017 New Delhi World Cup. Sekhon is also one for the future and the seventeen year old bagged a bronze in the Sydney Junior World Cup, the first medal by a women skeet shooter in India in a big ticket event.
Shooting has become a widely followed sport in India, thanks to the rich haul of medals and hopefully the youngsters will be able to live up to the pressure of delivering at the big stage.
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Updated Date: Aug 17, 2018 14:50:52 IST