India could not have made a more powerful statement at the start of 2018 shooting calendar than by finishing on top of the medals table at the recently-concluded ISSF World Cup in Guadalajara, Mexico. Riding on terrific efforts by the pistol and rifle shooters, it promises much in the road ahead in an event-packed year.
And yes, while the disappointment of the Olympic Games in 2016 may never be fully overcome, the Indian squad continues to inspire faith among fans, warming their hearts. There can be no doubt that the sustained efforts of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, through the Sports Authority of India (SAI), have seeded the comeback.
The NRAI’s junior programme, with coaches Jaspal Rana and Deepali Deshpande at the helm, has also paid off with several youngsters — Manu Bhaker, Shahzar Rizvi, Akhil Sheoran — coming into their own and challenging established names at the world level. Joydeep Karmakar has also chipped in with his efforts away from the national camps by mentoring Mehuli Ghosh.
With a haul of nine medals, comprising four gold, one silver and four bronze medals, India finished on top of the charts. What was significant is the fact that Indians made it to the finals of several events, including having all three shooters in finals in quite a few events. It is such compelling displays that have infused life in the NRAI’s bid to keep shooting as India’s leading Olympic sport.
Akhil Sheoran, 22, put behind the disappointment of not being picked for Rio Olympic Games to win 50m three position gold. He adjusted admirably to the wind in the final range, drawing from Anjum Moudgil’s experience the previous day in similar conditions. He also dealt with the pressure of winning India a medal with panache.
Shahzar Rivi, 23, was another shooter who showed that he could deal with the disappointment of not being picked for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) with a stupendous display of grit and accuracy men’s 10m air pistol event, with a world record score in the final.
The manner in which Manu Bhaker shot 10.8 to claim the women’s 10m air pistol gold reflected her competitive nature and the ability to stare a challenge on its face. She then teamed up with Omprakash Mithraval to win the mixed 10m air pistol gold from the vastly experienced German pair of Sandra and Christan Reitz with a strong finish.
Then again, it is not just about the ones who won gold in Guadalajara. Anjum Moudgill’s hot streak in the women’s 50m three position drew attention. The 24-year-old claimed silver in the grueling event. Chinese debutant Pei Ruijiao, 2014 Junior World Champion, took gold with a commanding show but Anjum Moudgill stopped Sun Ting from making it a 1-2 for China.
Moudgill also got to the 10m air rifle final, finishing fourth. Similarly, the fourth-place finish by experienced Ravi Kumar (10m air rifle) and Sanjeev Rajput (50m three position) have also given India enough reason to be happy with the outing to Guadalajara.
Then again, it is not as if India got everything they wanted. The shotgun shooters did not secure the results they would have sought. None of the men and women’s trap and skeet squad members made it to the finals. They will know, more than anyone else, that the Commonwealth Games will not be the yardstick by which their performance will be measured this year.
The 15-year-old pistol prodigy Anish Banwala’s learning curve started with his missing out on the 25m rapid fire pistol final by a whisker after tying for sixth position with China’s Yao Zhaonan. He was third after the first precision round and looking comfortable before losing out on a place in the final with one fewer shot in the 10s than the Chinese.
The teamwork that we saw in securing Anish Banwala a special clearance from the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) for him to compete in his maiden World Cup was laudable. From NRAI and its coaches to the SAI’s Deputy Director-General Sandip Pradhan, everyone convinced CBSE to let the youngster defer his appearance for exams.
For all that, there can be no doubt that the real challenge lies ahead when the competition will intensify and the demand for consistency grows. However, there are signs that the new-generation Indian shooter is mentally quite tough and can be expected to embrace consistency. It is the mental aspect of their competitive nature that inspires confidence that Indian shooting is back on rails.
Curiously, while the selectors and the shooters themselves treated the ISSF World Cup both as an important competition in itself and as part of their preparation for the CWG, pistol shooter Heena Sidhu opted out of the long haul to Mexico and back to conserve herself for Gold Coast.
Yet, the positives from the Guadalajara ranges outweighed the sore points as Indian shooting appeared prepared to resume romancing the fans, what with Olympic gold-medallist Abhinav Bindra lauding the display of the shooters. The buoyant feeling needs to be sustained if India are to make the most of this start and complete the journey.
Updated Date: Mar 12, 2018 18:01 PM