Tokyo Olympics 2020: Time running out for Indian shotgun shooters to find the target for Olympic slots

It may be raining podium finishes and Olympic quota places for the Indian rifle and pistol shooters but the extended medal drought for the shotgun shooters has been frustrating. Under the clear blue sky in Italy where the team is training, the trap and skeet shooters are hoping for some silver lining at the Finland World Cup starting on Thursday. The shotgun shooters are yet to win a single Olympic berth and are left with just two events – World Cup in Finland and the Asian Championship in Doha in November – to ensure participation in Tokyo.

In stark contrast to this bleak scenario, India have already bagged seven Olympic quota in pistol and rifle events. Top two finishers at the World Cup in Finland and the first three at the Asian Championship in Doha in November this year will earn Olympic quota places for their countries. India had three shotgun shooters in the Rio Olympics but none of them – Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Kynan Chenai and Mairaj Ahmad Khan - could make it to the finals.

Former trap shooter and currently a national coach, Mansher Singh, is confident of gunning down a couple of Olympic berths. Speaking to Firstpost, from the training base of the trap shooters, near Bolognia in Italy, Mansher says: “We have not earned the quota places but our shooters, especially Kynan Chenai, have been hitting good scores. Kynan narrowly missed making the finals in two World Cups this year,’’ says Mansher. “To improve our performance, I have been requesting the federation to provide the trap and skeet shooters with sports psychologists so that can handle the crunch situations better.’’

 Tokyo Olympics 2020: Time running out for Indian shotgun shooters to find the target for Olympic slots

India's trap shooter Kynan Chenai. Source:Instagram/kynanchenai

At the World Cup in Mexico, Chenai had shot 123 out of the maximum 125. He was locked in a shoot-off with five others for a place in the final but the Hyderabad shooter lost out. Even in Al Ain World Cup, he continued to be in hunt for a place in the final after shooting 122 but made an exit in the shoot-off.

Prithiviraj Thondaiman and 42-year-old Manavjit Singh Sandhu are the other two trap shooters who will be in action in Finland. Manavjit who has represented India in three Olympics had missed out on the last two World Cups and the World Championship due to illness.

In the women trap, a lot is expected from Manisha Keer. The 20-year-old from Bhopal created a sensation by winning the silver in the Junior World Championship last year. Since then she has upstaged many of the more experienced trap shooters to break into the senior team. “She is definitely one for the future. I have a lot of faith in her abilities,’’ says Mansher. The two other trap shooters in the women’s team include the veterans - Shagun Choudhury and Seema Tomar.

Unlike trap and double trap where the Indian shooters have been taking part in international events for a long time, Indian skeet shooters have started making an impression on the global stage in the last five or six years. This discipline received a shot in the arm when Mairaj Khan became the first Indian skeet shooter to win an Olympic spot in 2016. Today, the average scores of the Indian skeet shooters of around 123 out of 125 are very close to the best skeet shooters in the world. Angad Vir Singh Bajwa is India’s best bet in the event having won the gold in the Asian Shotgun Championship last year in Kuwait. The 23 year old also made the headlines in the shooting circles by creating a new world record in the final round, hitting all the 60 targets. “I know the Olympic quota is up for grabs but I do not want to put too much pressure on myself. I am in a good frame of mind going into the World Cup. My preparations have been good since I won a bronze medal in the World University Games in Napoli last month,’’ says Angad.

File image of Mairaj Ahmad Khan. AFP

In 2016 Mairaj Ahmad Khan had become first Indian skeet shooter win an Olympic spot. AFP

Angad along with Mairaj and Anantjeet Singh Naruka have been training under the watchful eyes of Ennio Falco, 1996 Olympic gold medallist from Italy, at his training base near Naples, Italy.

The Indian women skeet team features a young line-up of Areeba Khan, Kartiki Singh Shekhawat and Saniya Sheikh. Saniya had narrowly missed out on a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games last year.

Despite these bright spots, Indian shot gun shooting has been completely eclipsed by the rifle and pistol shooters. “There is a huge talent pool in rifle and pistol shooting in India which is lacking in shot gun. This is due to the sheer economic reasons. One does not need huge infrastructure support to build a rifle or a pistol range. But to build a range for skeet or trap shooting, you need to have a land almost the size of a cricket field,’’ reasons Mansher. Even the cost of procuring targets, ammunition and weapons for shotgun events are almost five times that of pistol and rifle shooting which has adversely affected its popularity.

Another blow for Indian shotgun shooting has been scrapping of the double trap event - a discipline where India won its first Olympic shooting medal through Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. Last year, Ankur Mittal won the World Championship but with the event removed from the Olympics, the former world number one double trap shooter has shifted to trap. “The transition takes time and hopefully I will break into the Indian team by next year. I am taking personal coaching from former Olympic champion Ahmad al Maktoum to improve my performance. All sports need a role model and hopefully an Olympic medal in shotgun will trigger an upswing in its popularity in the country,” believes Mittal.

But for that to happen, the Indian trap and skeet shooters will have to raise their game by several notches and hit the bulls eye in the last two qualifying events for Tokyo.

Updated Date: Aug 12, 2019 19:15:19 IST