India,China in Mexican standoff

The 10m air rifle is shaping into a fierce showdown,with Bindra,Narang,Qinan and Tao

Written by Vinayak Padmadeo | New Delhi | Published: July 13, 2012 3:48 am

One of shooting’s most sophisticated rivalries has almost silently taking firm roots in the soundless 10 metre ranges across the world. It’s the one involving Indian and Chinese shooters with Abhinav Bindra,Gagan Narang,Zhu Qinan and Wang Tao being the principal players. Earlier,this year at the Asian meet at Doha,the four crossed paths and with their Olympic quotas secured,it was a seen as a dry run ahead of London.

Wang and Zhu set the early pace with identical 598s/600. Bindra was a point adrift at third. Gagan struggled to hold his own after first two series of 99. Once in the final,the tables were turned. Bindra went past the Chinese with a 10.6. Then Qinan stormed back in the lead,but Bindra reined him in with a near-perfect 10.5 to bag gold. Wang,meanwhile,after slipping to fifth,had bounced back to win bronze. Narang ended strongly with the second best scores in the final after Bindra. A re-run of such hues is widely anticipated at London,four years after Bindra reduced silver-medallist Qinan to tears on the podium. There’s also multi-discipline winner Peter Sidi and current World No.2 Niccolo Campriani in the fierce field.

But Indians know,and Chinese know that Indians know,that come London,this could be as head-to-head as sport shooting could go.

After his Doha gold,which was also his first major medal after Beijing,though happy for his first-ever Asian gold,Bindra pulled on the practical mask of indifference. “It doesn’t hurt to do well but it doesn’t even help me. I can’t transplant this success onto the future. It’s good that it’s over.” He knew that the bigger test awaited him six months down the line.

Few metres away,Narang walked away with a sulk. Having sniffed bronze,he’d finished fourth. After taking it easy for a year after his 2010-high — including a perfect score of 600/600 at CWG — Narang hadn’t been on the individual podium often.

Chinese shooters aren’t known to talk much. But it’s apparent they hate losing to Indians. Shooting medals have been very dear to them after Xu Haifeng’s maiden success with gold in pistol at the 1984 Olympics.

Qinan cried at Beijing. In his book ‘A shot at history’,Bindra says,“Somehow,he doesn’t like Chinese.”

Rivalry may not be the sole driving force,but awareness of what the other is doing is fuelling competition.

Prior to Beijing,Bindra came to know the Chinese were using a different type of pellets. Unable to source them from Chinese manufacturers,he simply got a friend from Hong Kong to buy him 10,000 rounds.

Long-time training partner Suma Shirur explains,“He goes into the depths of techniques. He’s a scientist. Most of us go,shoot and look to perfect technique. He takes it further. If he knows that strengthening a tiny muscle would add to his perfection,he would find the right people to strengthen it.”

Narang’s form,on the other hand is an enigma. He’s out to avenge fate or whatever it was that led him to shoot a shocking 8 that edged him out of Beijing finals. Narang still outdid the Chinese in the 3-position event at Doha,fighting back like a champion. Lying as lowly as eighth after the standing discipline,Narang bagged bronze in 3P and his surge to that of Sanjeev Rajput’s gold,pushed the Chinese including Qinan away from the podium. “This was the first time we beat them by 90 points. And credit to Gagan and Rajput for the way they stuck to their gameplan and in windy conditions,” coach Stan Lapidus says of his favourite disciple.

Gagan may not be as defined in his quest for perfection but his technique is impeccable. “Both have different styles. Abhinav analyses every minute detail. Gagan though,goes out there and delivers,” Shirur says. “He may not be seen as someone working very hard towards perfection. But his sheer talent shows everytime he shoots. Given a chance I would like to be him,” Shirur adds about the difference in approach.

Variously described by fellow shooters as saint,a scientist and Buddha for his calm under pressure,Bindra is an anti-thesis of naturally talented Narang. The Chinese could be said to have met their match at Beijing,their threat-perception this time could be twice as much.

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