Updated: March 19, 2021 7:45:23 am
On paper, it is a World Cup. But for the Indian shooters, the tournament will virtually be a selection trial to seal their spot for the Tokyo Olympics.
As per the official entry list, 295 shooters from 53 countries will compete in the shooting World Cup, which gets underway on Friday. But it’s almost half of the number that took part in the same event two years ago – and 57 out of the 295 are from India alone.
Despite the absence of top shooters from China, Germany, Russia and Taipei, among others, owing to the pandemic, there should be no lack of drama. The sheer depth of talent domestically – India boasts of world number 1s and world record holders across events in shooting – is likely to make up for it.
The National Rifle Association of India’s decision to select the squad for the Olympics based on the performance in the World Cup will further add a competitive edge to the tournament, which will be held for rifle, pistol and shotgun events.
Rifle: Eyes on women’s trio, Divyansh
The most important storyline, from an Indian point of view, will be in the women’s 10m air rifle event.
Four out of the top 10 in the rankings designed for the Tokyo Games will start in the qualifying round, which will be held on Friday. Three out of the four are Indians – Elavenil Valarivan, Apurvi Chandela and Anjum Moudgil. Two out of those three, Chandela and Moudgil, have earned quota places for India in this event.
But Valarivan, world number 1, is shooting so well that it has put the other two – and the NRAI, who will have to figure out the team for Tokyo – under immense pressure. How these three perform over the weekend could also have a bearing on the selection in other rifle event, 25m three-position, where veteran shooter Tejaswini Sawant has won a quota.
There is no such intrigue in the men’s side but the focus there will firmly be on Divyansh Panwar, who tops the world ranking in the 10m air rifle event. Panwar, 18, will be tested in a competitive field, which includes world number 2 Peter Gorsa of Croatia, world number 3 Istvan Peni of Hungary, Croatia’s Miran Maricic (ranked sixth) and world number 10 from Belarus Illia Charheika.
Apart from them, Hungarian veteran Peter Sidi and Rio Olympics silver medalist Serhiy Kulish will also be looking to begin the year with a podium finish. Deepak Kumar, another quota winner, will hope to return to form after an ordinary run before the pandemic struck.
Pistol: Chance for one last Olympic quota
The 25m rapid-fire event for men will give Indian shooters one last chance to win another Olympic quota. The ranking points earned at this World Cup will be critical in determining the final few quotas.
Anish Bhanwala, placed 12th in the world, could all but secure a quota if he wins a gold medal. That Bhanwala will be the highest-ranked shooter in this event speaks a lot of the quality of the field in the rapid-fire event, which is dominated by the Chinese who occupy 5 spots in the top 10 of the world rankings.
But Bhanwala’s challenge will come from within. Chandigarh’s Vijayveer Sidhu, 18, has consistently been scoring high, which will put his teammate under pressure. Gurpreet Singh is the third Indian shooter in fray in this event.
Shotgun: Home comfort for Khan, Bajwa
In terms of selection, it is more straightforward in the shotgun events where skeet shooters Mairaj Khan and Angad Singh Bajwa are the only two who have won the quota. Both, however, have been affected by the travel restrictions brought about by the pandemic.
Because of superior coaching, competition and equipment availability, Khan and Bajwa usually travel to Europe for long training stints. Their coaches, too, are from there: Khan was coached by Italy’s Ennio Falco while Bajwa trained under Norway’s Tore Brovold. The recent surge in cases across Europe has further affected their plans to travel to Italy after the World Cup.
But the duo has had the advantage of getting some competitive experience before the Delhi World Cup – they played at the World Cup in Cairo last month. And although the results in events were not flattering, Khan and Bajwa will hope to step it up in Delhi next week, when their event will take place.
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