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Friday, July 30, 2021

World Cup gives shooters last chance to assess where they stand

For 80 days, the Indian team will be based in the Balkan nation as they prepare for the Olympics that start in a month in Tokyo. And this upcoming World Cup is the final step in that preparation.

Written by Shahid Judge | Mumbai |
Updated: June 24, 2021 7:43:03 am
shooting stock photoNaresh Sharma had questioned the selection of another shooter for a particular event. (Reuters Representational image)

In the eastern corner of Croatia lies their fourth largest city, Osijek. The population, based on 2011 United Nations data, is just over one-fourth of Mumbai suburb Andheri. And now the city will host its second major shooting competition in a month – a World Cup soon after the European Shooting Championships.

The International Shooting Sport Federation’s (ISSF) second World Cup of the year was moved to Osijek as the original host, Baku (Azerbaijan) was deemed risky under the Covid-19 shadow. The pandemic is also the reason the Indian team has been on Croatian shores for over a month now.

For 80 days, the team will be based in the Balkan nation as they prepare for the Olympics that start in a month in Tokyo. And this upcoming World Cup is the final step in that preparation.

“This is going to let (the shooters) know how well the training has been going,” explains Suma Shirur, chief coach of the junior national rifle team.

“They’ll get the feedback and use the remaining two-three weeks to understand the machinery (weapons) and themselves. Each individual will have their own goals here. Some would be looking to improve on the mental aspect, some the technical aspect. For some, it might just be about tactics.

“I wouldn’t say this is going to be their peak performance. It better not be.”

Stepping stone

A World Cup would generally be one of the tournaments in the year where competitors are expected to be at their best. Yet the circumstances of this event in Osijek, especially its close proximity to the Olympics, mean that a podium finish is not the most sought-after prize. The event is merely a stepping stone to the biggest competition that will follow soon.

“Right now (what we want) is good performances, but it’s important that nobody peaks right now,” Shirur says, asserting that it’s better to miss out on a podium finish in Croatia than lose a medal in Tokyo.

“That will be the challenge. Everyone is in good form, some a bit better than others. We need to do the balancing game well – finding the right time to know when you’re going to peak.”

The World Cup isn’t the only tournament, however, that the Indian team has managed to compete in while in Croatia. They were granted permission to compete in the Minimum Qualification Score (MQS) category of the European Championships last month – they could compete only in the qualification events and not the final.

From the 14 different entries in individual events, seven Indians shot scores that would have seen them progress into the final had they not been in MQS. Yet that tournament was just to give them a feeler of where they stood at the time.

“It was a barometer and they know where they are,” Shirur says.

“Everyone shot there without much training. We had finished a week-long quarantine in Croatia, and had just three days of practice. With that in mind, it was a good start.”

Competition mode

Importantly, it put the shooters in a pressure situation.

“It’s always good to start with a match. MQS or not, it always gives you pressure when you’re in line with the others. Any pressure right now is good. It’s important to get used to it because it’ll only build up as the Olympics get closer,” she says.

“It also sets the right mood. We haven’t had many competitions (the last competitive tournament for the Indians was in March, at the New Delhi World Cup). And it takes a while to get used to that environment – see how your body adapts and how you fine-tune yourself. These small matches are important to prepare.”

Yet as the pressure has started to build, Shirur claims the mood in the Indian camp has been upbeat. They’re coming close to an event they have been training towards since the Rio Games. And she recalls the disappointment the team felt when the Games were postponed from the original dates in 2020 – the squad had been in good form at the time.

That disappointment, though, has made way for excitement.

“Most of them are back to where they were,” Shirur adds. “Maybe even better.”

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