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Sunday, February 23, 2020

Target Tokyo: Road ahead for India’s sharp shooters

In 2019, Indian shooters recorded world-class scores, dominated podium at World Cups and secured most Olympic quotas ever by the country. The challenge will now be to repeat the same performance at the Games in seven months’ time.

Written by Shahid Judge | Updated: December 29, 2019 9:04:22 am
Apurvi Chandela, Apurvi Chandela gold medal, Apurvi Chandela Munich, Apurvi Chandela 10m rifle gold medal, Apurvi Chandela gold medals, Apurvi Chandela shooting Apurvi Chandela, who was among the first Indians to earn an Olympic quota, reached the final at the Beijing World Cup and even captured the World No. 1 rank that she still holds. (PTI Photo)

A new and ambitious generation of young Indian shooters is promising Olympic success. Raiswith highly fancied mixed air pistol and air rifle teams, India will fight for a total of 19 possible medals. With the shadow of a luckless Rio Games constantly stalking the sport, it was jolted into a reboot these last four years. Going by the headlines shooting garnered in 2019, Tokyo can’t come quickly enough.

But 2016 showed that all that glittered was not gold, or silver or bronze even. The Indian contingent returned from the World Championships last year with just one medal — a silver — in Olympic events. Since then, teenaged youngsters have burst through the wings and shown fearlessness in their quest for success.

The Sunday Express takes you through the promise and pitfalls that lie ahead for India’s sharp shooters.

Women’s 10m Air Rifle

Event date: July 25, 2020 – Qualification and finals

Quota winner: Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela

anjum moudgil Anjum Moudgil (File Photo)

Anjum Moudgil (in pic) was the only Indian to win a medal at the 2018 World Championships (in an Olympic event) when she finished second, and along with Apurvi Chandela, who placed fourth, became the first two Indian shooters to win Tokyo Olympics quotas. Thereon though, Chandela’s form grew rapidly as she’d win gold medals in the individual event at the World Cups in New Delhi, setting a new world record in finals, and in Munich. She also reached the final at the Beijing World Cup and even captured the world no 1 rank she still holds.

Ranked World No. 2 is Moudgil, whose experience in the women’s 50 m 3 position rifle event makes her a versatile shooter. She reached the finals of the World Cups in Beijing and Rio, finishing sixth in both, but she did manage to secure gold in the mixed air rifle event in Beijing and Munich, where she paired up with Divyansh Singh Panwar.

In terms of their foreign competition, 19-year-old South Korean Hana Im, who beat the Indian duo to win gold at the World Championship is the most potent threat. Another stern competitor is Im’s compatriot Eunhea Jung, won silver at the Asian Games and then earned her Olympic quota by finishing third at the World Championships. From China, Ruozhu Zhao won gold at the Asian Games and followed up with silver at the New Delhi World Cup.

But Chandela and Moudgil will also be wary of fellow-Indian and world no 3 Elavenil Valarivan, who is in contention of usurping her seniors for an Olympic spot. The 20-year-old won gold at the World Cup in Rio, but more recently, beat her senior compatriots to a first place finish at the World Cup Finals. Based on the NRAI-designed rubric to determine who will take the two quota places (since quotas belong to the country and not the player), Chandela leads with a score of 632.77, followed by Moudgil on 631.22 and Valarivan who is very close on 630.25. Crucially, the World Cup Finals performance is not considered in the NRAI’s formula.

Men’s 10m Air Rifle

Event date: July 26, 2020 – qualification and finals

Quota winner: Divyansh Singh Panwar and Deepak Kumar

Divyansh Singh Panwar, who only recently turned 17, proved to be one of the finds of the season for Indian shooting. In only his second ever appearance at a senior World Cup, in Beijing, he finished with silver and earned India its first Olympic quota in this event. The teenager’s presence, prior to the sojourn in Beijing, largely went unnoticed due to the presence of veterans Deepak Kumar and Ravi Kumar, who were the ones expected to bring in quota places for the event dubbed the ‘Abhinav Bindra event’ among Indian shooting enthusiasts.

But the youngster, though still inexperienced, made sure his achievement was no flash in the pan. He was the only Indian to compete in the World Cup Finals in the men’s 10 m air rifle event, and he ended up outscoring the 15 best shooters of the year with a remarkable gold.

He will, however, not be the only Indian shooting at his event at Tokyo 2020. At the Asian Championship in Doha, Qatar, Deepak finished with a bronze medal – trailing two shooters from China who had already secured the maximum quota spots for a country – to earn his own berth at the Olympics. Most importantly though, Deepak’s quota ensures India can put up a second 10m air rifle mixed team at Tokyo.

In the individual event at the Olympics though, the competition is expected to get much harder. Russia’s Sergey Kamenskiy, a World Championship and New Delhi World Cup gold medallist will be there, along with World Championship and Munich World Cup silver medallist Petar Gorsa of Croatia. Then there is China’s Zicheng Hui, who won gold and bronze at the World Cups in Beijing and New Delhi respectively, along with winning gold at the Asian Games in the men’s 50m 3positions event. Gorsa, Kamenskiy and Hui are also the top three ranked shooters in the world respectively.

Women’s 10m Air Pistol

Event date: July 26, 2020 – qualification and finals

Quota winner: Manu Bhaker and Yashaswini Singh Deswal

Manu Bhaker was the first big name to emerge from Indian shooting’s ‘next gen’ of stars. This year, however, the 17-year-old struggled to score well in the qualification rounds of the first two World Cups in New Delhi and Beijing. When the shooting world descended upon Munich though for what is arguably the most competitive World Cup of the season, the teenager shot a career best 582 in the individual event and made it to the final, where she finished fourth and earned India’s first Olympic quota in the event.

A few months later, Bhaker travelled to Rio for the last World Cup of the year and competed in the MQS category. But it was there that 22-year-old Yashaswini Singh Deswal announced herself by winning her career’s first World Cup gold, and India’s second quota. And with veteran Indian shooter Heena Sidhu out of contention, the pair is a certainty to travel to Tokyo.

Together they qualified for the finals at the Asian Championships in Doha, where Bhaker won gold and Deswal finished sixth. But more recently, they made it to the finals of the World Cup Finals, that too in a field that included Rio Olympics bronze and World Championship gold medallist Anna Korakaki, World Championships silver medallist Zorana Arunovic and Beijing World Cup gold and Munich bronze-medallist Minjung Kim (all of whom have qualified for Tokyo 2020).

According to coaches, the Indian pair’s greatest weakness at the Olympics will be that they don’t have the experience of playing at a competition of that magnitude. But Bhaker is an ambitious athlete, and Deswal is rated the most disciplined pistol shooter in the team.

At the World Cup Finals, Deswal finished sixth, falling short by just 0.3 points. But Bhaker went on to win gold and set a new junior world record.

Men’s 10m Air Pistol

Event date: July 25, 2020 – Qualification and finals

Quota winner: Saurabh Chaudhary and Abhishek Verma

abhishek verma, shooter abhishel verma, gold in shooting, abhshek verma wins gold in world cup, rio world cup, sports news, chandigarh news, indian express Abhishek Verma (centre) (File Photo)

Easily the most decorated and consistent Indian shooters this season, Saurabh Chaudhary and Abhishek Verma (in pic) are among the favourites to medal at the Tokyo Olympics next year. Seventeen-year-old Chaudhary was the first to win the Olympic quota when he won gold at the New Delhi World Cup early in 2019. Thereon the world no 3 went on to win gold in the competitive Munich World Cup and bronze at Rio, followed by a silver medal at the Asian Championships. His senior compatriot, the 30-year-old Verma, who is a qualified lawyer and the world no 2, meanwhile earned his quota with a gold-medal finish at the Beijing World Cup and followed it up with another gold at Rio.

The pair, however, did stumble a bit during the World Cup Finals in Putian, China, where Verma finished fifth and Chaudhary sixth. At the same time, both will be appearing at the Olympics for the first time next year, yet they remain firm favourites at Tokyo.

The teenager is an introvert, which his coaches see as a boon as he does not get distracted by bad performances and the talk that comes with it. Verma, in turn, is disciplined, and at 30, his maturity helps him to adapt and handle pressure.

And there certainly will be a lot of tension when they take to the Asaka Shooting Range in Tokyo when the best in the world will jostle with them for a spot on the podium. Russia’s Artem Chernousov, the world no 1 and silver medallist at the World Championships and World Cups in Beijing and Munich will potentially be their most potent opponent. Also present will be Beijing Olympics champion Wei Pang of China. But none can ignore the threat of Jongoh Jin, a South Korean veteran, and gold-medal winner at London 2012 and the World Championships last year – the biggest name in this event. Then there is host nation’s veteran Tomoyuki Matsuda, whom Chaudhary had just about pipped to gold at the 2018 Asian Games. The 43-year-old Japanese has made clear his want for ‘revenge.’

Mixed Air Rifle

Event date: July 28, 2020 – qualification and finals

Teams: Anjum Moudgil and Divyansh Singh Panwar, Apurvi Chandela and Deepak Kumar

Since India has won its maximum allotment of quotas in the individual events of the men’s and women’s 10m air rifle, the country can field two teams for the mixed event.

The team of Apurvi Chandela and Deepak Kumar has been paired together throughout the season, although they did have a slow start. At the World Cup in New Delhi, they failed to qualify for the finals and then finished sixth at the Beijing World Cup. In Munich however, the pair improved and eventually finished with silver, and then captured gold at the final World Cup of the year in Rio.

Anjum Moudgil and Divyansh Singh Panwar meanwhile first played together only at the Beijing World Cup and ended up winning gold. They repeated the feat again in Munich before dropping down to bronze at the Rio World Cup.

At the World Cup Finals in Putian, China, Panwar paired up with Croatian shooter Snjezana Pecic to win gold, while Chandela and her Chinese partner Changhong Zhang came in second.

Meanwhile, the only teams to have won direct quotas in the mixed event are China’s Haoran Yang and Ruozhu Zhao, and Russian team Anastasiia Galashina and Vladimir Maslennikov, who won gold and silver respectively at the World Championships last year.

Mixed Air Pistol

Event date: July 28, 2020 – qualification and finals

Teams: Manu Bhaker(in pic), and Saurabh Chaudhary, Yashawini Singh Deswal and Abhishek Verma

ISSF World Cup China, China ISSF Manu Bhaker, Manu Bhaker ISSF, Indian Express news Manu Bhaker (File Photo)

The Bhaker-Chaudhary combo has been the team to beat this year. The team of 17-year-olds have won gold in every competition they have competed in together in the 2019 season — be it the World Cups in New Delhi, Beijing, Munich and Rio, or even the Asian Championships in Doha. At the World Cup Finals though, Bhaker teamed up with Russian Artem Chernousov to win gold, while Chaudhary paired with Anna Korakaki of Greece to finish with silver.

The Indian teenaged-duo is expected to carry that same form to Tokyo.

While Bhaker and Chaudhary have been a sure-shot pairing in team selection, India’s second team of Yashaswini Singh Deswal and Abhishek Verma though came together for the first time only at the last World Cup of the year, in Rio. There the duo finished in second.

Both teams are expected to make it to Tokyo, along with the teams of Meng Yi Wang and Qian Wang of China and Russian pair of Vitalina Batsarashkina and Chernousov, who had won gold and silver at the World Championships respectively and thus earned the only direct mixed event quotas on offer. Bhaker and Chaudhary however, remain strong favourites.

Tokyo Underdogs

Women’s 25m Pistol

Event date: July 30, 2020 – precision; July 31, 2020 – qualification and finals

Quota winner: Rahi Sarnobat and Chinki Yadav

Sarnobat is a strong shooter in the finals, but has struggled to get past the qualification stage. Over the four World Cups this year and the World Cup Finals, she made the final just once, at Munich, where she won gold and got the quota. Yadav meanwhile won her quota by finishing sixth at the Asian Championship, where the top four finishers had already secured quotas.

Men’s 50m 3 Positions Rifle

Event date: August 3, 2020 – qualification and finals

Quota winner: Sanjeev Rajput and Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar

Veteran Rajput has struggled to find form and earned his quota by winning silver at the Rio World Cup, which had a depleted field. The 18-year-old Tomar in turn does not have much experience shooting at high-level international competitions. He won his quota through a bronze at the Asian Championships in Qatar, but competed in all the senior World Cups this year in the MQS category.

Women’s 50m 3 Positions Rifle

Event date: August 1, 2020 – qualification and finals

Quota winner: Tejaswini Sawant

The 39-year-old veteran is set to make her Olympics debut in Tokyo. But she hasn’t competed much in the 2019 season, having played only at the Rio World Cup, where she finished 47th. She won her quota after finishing fourth at the Asian Championships in Doha, but at Tokyo she’ll be up against a strong field that includes talented youngsters like world no 1 Seonaid McIntosh and Russian Yulia Karimova.

Men’s Skeet

Event date: July 26, 2020 – qualification; July 27, 2020 – qualification and finals

Quota winner: Angad Singh Bajwa and Mairaj Ahmed Khan (in pic)

Sheeraz Sheikh, Asian Shotgun Championship, Mairaj Ahmad Khan, Angad Vir Singh Bajwa Mairaj Ahmed Khan (File Photo)

By winning gold and silver at the Asian Championships in Doha, Bajwa and Khan respectively confirmed India would participate in at least one shotgun event at the Tokyo Olympics. Their overall performances this year though has been under-par. The average cut-off score in the qualification rounds of the four World Cups and World Championships was 122, but Bajwa’s average was 114 (over three events) and Khan managed 117. In Doha, they both qualified for the final with a score of 120, which was the cut-off.

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