Tokyo Olympics 2020: Shooters' current form not overriding selection criterion, says NRAI chief
'Current form won’t be an overriding consideration and I don’t see it being a huge factor in team selection. Don’t expect any major surprises or any extraordinary changes,” NRAI chief Raninder Singh said.
New Delhi: Shooters’ current form will not be the deciding factor when the national selection committee meets to pick the squad for the now-deferred Tokyo Olympics shortly after the ongoing ISSF Shooting World Cup, NRAI president Raninder Singh said on Wednesday.
Shooting has been India’s most productive medal sport at the Olympics for over a decade and a half, with the contingent winning at least one medal each at the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Games, while in 2016, Abhinav Bindra narrowly missed out on a bronze medal.
Even though shotgun shooters have struggled to make an impact – barring the men’s skeet duo of Angad Vir Singh Bajwa and Mairaj Ahmad Khan who have earned quotas - rifle and pistol teams have been in stellar form over the past few years, winning a clutch of medals at the Asian and Commonwealth Games and consistently topping world rankings.
In fact, such has been the competition in the women’s rifle category that Apurvi Chandela and Anjum Moudgil, who were the first Indian shooters to win the Olympic quota at the 2018 World Championships, are being consistently pushed by compatriot and World No 1 Elavenil Valarivan. What makes things even more interesting is that Moudgil also competes in the 50M 3P event, where a quota has been won by the seasoned Tejaswini Sawant.
Neither Sawant, nor Moudgil could, however, make the cut for the 50M 3P final in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Similarly, Manu Bhaker, an accomplished 10-metre air pistol shooter, fancies her chances in the 25-metre pistol category too, but the two available quotas have been booked by Rahi Sarnobat and Chinki Yadav. The quotas, it must be remembered, belong to the country and not the athlete who earns it, but with Yadav and Sarnobat claiming gold and silver medals on Wednesday, it will be tough to look past them. Bhaker’s bronze-winning effort may well be a reflection of the pecking order in the 25-metre pistol category. So far, India have secured a record 15 quota places with a tough, but not improbable, crack at securing a 16th in men's 25-metre rapid-fire pistol.
“The team will be selected within a week after the World Cup. The selection committee will meet in an on-camera session. We will adhere to NRAI’s well-publicised selection policy, but owing to the extraordinary circumstances (COVID-enforced break), current form will be taken into account.
“However, it won’t be an overriding consideration and I don’t see it being a factor for quota places going here and there. Don’t expect any major surprises or any extraordinary changes,” Singh told media persons at the Karni Singh Shooting Range.
The selection meeting was supposed to take place in February last year before COVID-19 threw a spanner in NRAI’s plans. Singh conceded that the one-year break necessitated a look at current form, but it won’t be a major determining factor for team selection.
“Majority selections will be on expected lines. Unless there is an exceptionally poor performance, I don’t think there will be any major omission. I am not looking for a medal; I am looking at the qualification scores and performance in the finals. I am not concerned with a few shooters not winning medals or showing a dip in form,” Singh added.
NRAI chief’s assertions should come as a relief for the experienced Sanjeev Rajput, who had a disastrous 50M 3P final earlier in the day. The 40-year-old shot a dismal 413.3 to finish sixth of the eight finalists after topping the qualifications stage on Tuesday with a score of 1172.
“Look at Sanjeev. He shot a world-class qualification score, but had a bad day in the final. Anyone can have an off day. In the case of Sanjeev, it doesn’t really make a difference (since he has already won a quota),” the 53-year-old said.
Nationals likely to be postponed
Further, the NRAI chief all but confirmed a possible postponement of next month’s National Championships, scheduled to be held in New Delhi. The national capital is witnessing a spike in COVID-19 cases, with Chief Minister’s Office confirming over 1000 positive cases on Tuesday. There were no Nationals in 2020 either due to the pandemic.
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“The way things are going, it looks like we are in the third wave of coronavirus. I don’t think I will be able to conduct national championships. I can’t have 12,000 athletes here; it will become a super spreader.
“It’s not officially decided, but we’ll take a final call in a couple of days. The situation is worrisome because we stand to lose out on juniors and upcoming talent for second consecutive year.”
The federation is also considering the option of decentralising the Nationals, with multiple cities hosting various shooting events. The proposal has not been confirmed yet, but Singh sounded optimistic about the idea.
“That (decentralisation) could be an option. So for example, Pune can host air pistol, air rifle in Hyderabad, shotgun in Patiala and so on. We really have to think out of the box. These are extraordinary times that demand extraordinary thinking,” he concluded.
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