The upcoming 59th National Shooting Championships (December 2-15) starting Wednesday have assumed an added meaning, heading into the Olympics year. Especially since it’s happening at the Karni Singh Shooting Range in New Delhi. The venue has been selected to host the last Olympic qualifying competition — the continental Asian qualifiers — from January 25-February 3 at a time when the capital goes through its yearly phase of fallen mercury.
Normally, ahead of an Olympic year, the annual Nationals would serve as a mere tune-up opportunity in a competitive set-up for the shooters. Yet given the expected weather conditions of the Delhi winter, the Indian shooters will attempt to familiarise, and steadily acclimatise themselves to the range ahead of their last shot at seeking Rio qualification.
The call for New Delhi to host the qualification tournament, which will provide 35 Olympic berths, came after the Kuwait-held Asian Championships in October was stripped off its right to award the coveted quotas. Now with India hosting the event, though terms such as ‘home advantage’ come into the picture, the usual weather patterns at that time of the year render the venue a far cry from being “ideal” conditions.
Temperature, lighting and the fog/smog factor will affect each discipline differently. Shotgun will take the hardest blow, however. Held in an outdoor setting with a natural background, the trap, double trap and skeet events, under the shotgun category, will be susceptible to low visibility and the possibility of fast wind-speed.
“For shotgun, the weather always dictates terms and it can play havoc. Delhi tends to be foggy which creates problems with visibility. If you can’t see the clay flying, you can’t shoot it,” says 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Morad Ali Khan. “And if it’s windy, then the target can change direction mid-air,” he adds.
Khan isn’t worried about temperature though, given that athletes from all fields participate in cold conditions abroad. For him it’s all about visibility. “When you’re in a plane flying over Europe and you look down, you can see everything. It’s clear. When you fly over Delhi you can’t see much. So visibility will be a problem,” he explains.
He goes further to point out that the consistency of visibility too may shift results. “What can happen is that it may be very dull for the first shooter, who suffers. And by the time the fifth shooter comes, it’s nice and sunny,” he mentions. “There’s a different kind of luck you need in these situations,” he further states.
For the rifle and pistol events, the 10 metre categories are held in a controlled indoor environment. The 25 and 50 metres events, however, are outdoor. Rahi Sarnobat, who won a team bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games in the 25 metre pistol category, remembers the 2013 national championship, again held in New Delhi. “At 25 metres, we couldn’t see the target. For 50 metre shooters it was another question altogether,” she recalls.
Yet since the January tournament holds a ticket to Rio, there will be a call for further acclimatisation. Silver medallist at the London Olympics Vijay Kumar mentions how shooters travel to tournament destinations about a week in advance to get used to the climate and shooting conditions. “I hope there will be a camp organised at the venue itself closer to the date. This is the home country and all, but we’re going to be shooting under very European conditions,” he says.
Though January-February are expected to be coldest in Delhi, the temperature remains the one aspect not many are overtly concerned about. Sarnobat explains that most shooters participate overseas in conditions that are roughly around the 10 degree Celsius mark. Sometimes even lower. Though it isn’t a new feature, it isn’t one they take lightly.
“The body can get stiff, and your trigger finger might get numb. With that you can’t feel the trigger,” says Ronak Pandit, the husband-coach of Heena Sidhu, who, like Sarnobat and Kumar, is vying for a quota place. “That’s where the experience comes in. If you panic, the shot will go wayward,” he adds.