There’s a difference between being a good shooter, and a good competitor. The latter is the one who can soak in the pressure, deal with the situation, and deliver points when needed the most. On Thursday, at the Beijing World Cup, India unearthed another young competitor – Divyansh Singh Panwar.
In only his second senior level World Cup, the 16-year-old paired up with Anjum Moudgil to win gold in the 10 m air rifle mixed event – India’s first medal at the ongoing tournament.
His pet event, the individual air rifle event, in which Olympic quotas are available, is scheduled to take place a day later. The 10 m air rifle event in which India boasts two Olympic medals – a gold and bronze – is yet to fetch a quota for the Tokyo Games.
Of late though, performances of the current stalwarts, Deepak Kumar and Ravi Kumar have stagnated, since the Asian Games last year. But it’s the fearlessness, composure, and ambition of the upcoming teenagers that has induced competition and improvement. And Panwar is expected to do just that in this event.
At the Asian Airgun Championship in Taiwan last month, the Jaipur-native won gold beating both his compatriots to his first ever senior-level international medal. Then he carried that momentum with him to Beijing to earn the title in a completely new format for the mixed event.
With Moudgil, Panwar overcame the Romanian team in the quarterfinal, which included five-time World Cup medallist and London 2012 Olympic gold medalist Alin Moldoveanu. In the semi-finals, the pair overcame the Russian squad of 2018 World Championship 50 m 3 position rifle gold medallist Yulia Karimova and Youth Olympics and World Championship (junior) gold medallist Grigorii Shamakov.
In the gold-medal match though, the Indians scraped through with a win over China, which included double World Championship and Asian Games gold medallist (in 10 m air rifle) Yang Hoaran, who won China the mixed team quota at the World Championships.
For the gold medal match against China, it was Panwar who hit the winning shot. Needing at least a 10.2 to seal the win, the teenager struck a 10.5.
Yet such scores, asserts junior rifle team’s high performance coach Suma Shirur, are expected of Panwar.
She has in fact, seen him develop from close quarters, evolving from being a “skinny boy, low on confidence, to a tall and talented shooter of today.”
The turning point came late last December, at the Lakshya Cup – a domestic tournament organised at Shirur’s academy in Panvel. The upcoming junior had beaten Russian marksman Alexander Dryagin’s world record of 251.2 by scoring 252.3 (not ratified since it was a local event) to win the gold.
How a mixed team can still make it to Tokyo
Olympic qualification for the mixed events are not granted at every World Cup, like they are for the individual events. The only tournament that granted direct entry into the mixed shooting events at Tokyo 2020 was the World Championships in Changwon last year, where China and Russia picked the quotas in both pistol and rifle. Indian teams had finished 7th and 25th failing to make the finals back then. The top two teams in all three mixed disciplines – air rifle, air pistol and trap – were granted qualification. Thereon, a country can field a mixed event team at Tokyo only from the athletes that qualify in their respective individual discipline. As it stands, India has won two quotas in the women's 10 m air rifle. But for the country to field a mixed team, its athletes must win at least one quota in the men's individual 10 m air rifle event. Similarly, Saurabh Chaudhary's lone quota from the men's 10 m air pistol will require one of the women's 10 m air pistol shooters (Heena Sidhu, Manu Bhaker or Yashaswini Deswal failed to win quotas at Beijing) to secure a spot for Tokyo to grant the country a berth in the mixed air pistol event. Chaudhary and Bhaker did claim the mixed team gold beating Russia in the semis, the same team that's won the quota at the World's.
“On top of that, he scored around a 630 in the qualifiers,” Shirur recalls. “It was the first time he ever got scores like that, but it made him believe that he was ready to take the step up to the senior level. Then he made it to the team for his first World Cup in New Delhi. And the thing with the youngsters now is that they are very ambitious. Once they break into a senior squad, they don’t look back.”
And so it happened that at the age of 16, Panwar graduated from the junior level. Still, though, he carries with him the will to learn which is what helped him make that shift in the first place.
“When he first came into the junior team last year, he was confident in his talent,” Shirur explains, “but he had no confidence in his technique. He came in with the mentality that he had to work and improve.”
As he shot up in height over the year, reaching the six-foot mark he now stands at, his position and posture changed, as did his technique. At home though, a few habits were altered as well.
“His father told me that he had to become a strict parent to make sure Divyansh did better,” says Shirur, a world record holder in the 10 m air rifle. “So what he’s done is made a rule at home that Divyansh has to hand over his mobile phone at 10 pm at night to make sure he’s not fiddling with it and gets good sleep.”
That’s what the youngster has become used to now. In Beijing, upon winning the gold, there was no prolonged celebration. “He knew there was a more important match coming up,” Shirur adds.
On Friday, Panwar will enter the range again to compete for the individual air rifle event. A top two finish will grant him a spot at the 2020 Olympics. At the same time, it will confirm the participation of an Indian mixed air rifle team at Tokyo next year.
The experienced Deepak and Ravi have long been expected to be the ones to make the cut for the next Summer Games. Now Panwar has thrown his hat into the ring.
The new format
* The ISSF has introduced a new format for the mixed event in its bid to make the sport spectator friendly.. Instead of the five teams that would qualify for the finals in the earlier format, eight make it to a knockout round that starts from the quarterfinal stage.
* Ties are played on a country versus country format, with the winner progressing to the next round. The two losing semifinalists compete for the bronze, while the two winning semifinalists will fight for gold.
* Each match consists of ‘series.’ Every series requires each of the four shooters to take one shot in the duration of 50 seconds, the scores are added and the team with the higher score earns two points. In case both teams score the same points, they share one point each.
* The team that gets to the score of 16 points first wins the match. On way to gold, India beat Russia in both mixed team rifle and pistol semis, and China in both finals.—ENS