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Posted at: Sep 8, 2019, 7:37 AM; last updated: Sep 8, 2019, 7:45 AM (IST)

Aiming for the stars

India’s young guns have taken the shooting world by storm. They are winning more medals than ever at the Worlds, shooting down world records with ease, occupying top spots in world rankings.... Their ominous form and consistency augur well for India at the Tokyo Olympics next year

Gaurav Kanthwal in Chandigarh

Indian Indian shooting has hit a purple patch, what with its young guns dominating the world rankings and the World Cup series. In the last one year, Indian shooters have dominated the world stage like never before, winning each of the four World Cup stages comprehensively. Their medal count (22) this year is better than their overall count of 19 in all editions put together. Interestingly, women shooters are spearheading the charge — five of the nine Tokyo Olympic quotas that India have won so far have been clinched by women shooters. The young women shooters have not only outgunned their male counterparts in gold count but also in grabbing the top world rankings.

Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary are ranked No. 1 in the 10m air pistol mixed team; Apurvi Chandela, Anjum  Moudgil and Elavenil Valarivan, in a rare instance, are 1-2-3 in the 10m air rifle rankings; pistol shooter Yashaswini Singh Deswal is not quite up there yet but has jumped 26 places to be world No. 4 in the 10m air pistol rankings.

Besides, an unprecedented 14 Indian shooters will be competing in the World Cup Final in Pultan, China, from November 17 to 23. The World Cup Final is a competition where the best fight the best for a place on the podium. Here, only the 14 top-ranked shooters, World Championships medallists and defending champion make the cut. A glance at the Pultan-bound Indian contingent makes it clear that Indian junior shooters have stormed the squad, leaving little breathing space for the seniors. Barring Sanjeev Rajput, Rahi Sarnobat and a few others, India’s shooting hopes in the Tokyo Olympics next year will rest on the shoulders of the teenagers. Divyansh Singh Panwar (17), Saurabh Chaudhary (17), Anish Bhanwala (16), Mehuli Ghosh (19), Elavenil Valarivan (20), Yashaswini Singh Deswal (22) and Akhil Sheoran (24) have been shooting exceptional scores and their consistency a year before the Olympics is a threat to every contender in Tokyo.

Manu and Anjum have qualified for two events. While Manu has made the cut in the 10m air pistol and 25m pistol events, Anjum will compete in the 10m air rifle and 50m rifle 3 Positions events. “My focus till next year is going to be on streamlining the processes I have been following and build on them. I am quite satisfied with my performance in the last one year, and that gives me the strength to approach the coming year confidently,” said Anjum.

The turnaround

The seeds of the current success were sown after the Rio Olympics, where Indian shooters drew a blank. It was felt that time had come for the new generation to take over. The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) brought in fresh faces, giving the sport a new lease of life. NRAI’s junior programme, currently cradled by former Indian Olympians as coaches and mentors, has led to the roaring success of the youngsters. Pistol coach Jaspal Rana, high-performance coach (junior Indian rifle team) Suma Shirur and national junior rifle coach Deepali Deshpande have facilitated their successful transition into the senior fold.

Samaresh Jung, the high-performance director of the senior pistol team, said, “In the last few years, the number of participants has increased considerably in the junior category. As a result, we get to see more youngsters scoring high and shooting in the senior category also.”

Besides, NRAI implemented the Abhinav Bindra-led committee’s recommendations to overhaul the set-up. All this has resulted in an unprecedented medal haul this year. Shooters have been kept on their toes throughout the year with rewards for consistent performers.

Clean slate

The advantage with young shooters is that they come with a clean slate and start shooting high scores once they grasp the basics. They carry no psychological baggage, which is a break from the past generation, and believe that an Olympic medal is not out of reach. In shooting, it is said that you do not shoot for medals but for scores. The youngsters seem to have imbibed it well. It is this mantra that has brought success to juniors and helped them move into the senior fold seamlessly. 

Meerut’s Saurabh became the junior world champion in Changwon, South Korea, with a record-breaking score of 245.5 in the 10m air pistol event. Hooghly’s Mehuli Ghosh shot a world record score of 254 in the junior women’s 10m air rifle event in the national shooting selection trials in New Delhi. The 19-year-old shot better than the world record score of 252.9 in the senior women’s category. Jhajjar’s Manu won gold in the 10m air pistol event of the ISSF Junior Shooting World Cup in Suhl, Germany, with a record score of 242.5. Such is the skill and intensity of the juniors that they’ve breached world-record marks multiple times in a year.

Compete with yourself, not others, coaches keep drilling this cardinal principle of the sport into the budding shooters. Manu and Saurabh have outclassed the biggest names in shooting, and then gone on record saying they didn’t know that the reigning world champions were in the fray too. “I am more focused about my own shooting rather than others,” Manu said, giving an insight into her thought process during competition.

Pedigree matters, too. This is a sport which has got India most individual medals in the Olympics. Abhinav Bindra’s gold and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s silver have inspired a generation of shooters and the result is there for everyone to see. It’s not that the success has come on a platter. Besides tough international competition and exorbitant expenses that comes with shooting, the routine challenges of lack of infrastructure confront shooters, like any other sportsperson in India. Take the case of Haryana, touted as the No. 1 state in sports — there’s not a single shooting range owned or run by the state government. Ironically, the majority of international shooters belong to Haryana.

Olympic dreams

While it is good to be optimistic about India’s medal hopes at the Tokyo Olympics, past experiences show that unbridled optimism usually ends up in heartbreak. Remember how Jitu Rai, the 10m air pistol shooter who had a golden run ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics, flopped miserably on D-day? Bindra, the gold medallist at the Beijing Olympics, was tipped to win a medal in Rio, but bowed out in the third-place shoot-off.

No doubt 2019 has been exceptional for Indian shooters. They have topped the medal tally in each of the four ISSF World Cups this year — in New Delhi, Beijing, Munich and Rio de Janeiro — pocketing 22 medals, including 16 gold. The air pistol events contributed 12 of these, while the air rifle events accounted for 10. The women shooters won five gold, while the men won four. India is expected to present a challenge in about 15 events in Tokyo, but the best bet would be the 10m air pistol and 10m air rifle events. There is a general feeling in the shooting fraternity that mixed team events are the ones where India has the best chance of winning Olympics medals next year. India’s complete dominance in this new event is the main reason behind this optimism.


Jhajjar champs

Manu Bhaker, Sumit Nagal, Deepak Punia, Vicky Chahar and Bajrang Punia  they all are from Jhajjar. In the past one month, Jhajjar has emerged as the new sports hub of India. The district, with a population of close to 10 lakh, is now home to India’s best in shooting, tennis and wrestling. If India is sensing an Olympics medal in shooting or wrestling next year, there’s a very good chance that it might come from this district. Bajrang, the world No. 1 wrestler in the 65kg category, who comes from Khuddan village, and Manu, the world No. 1 shooter in 10m air pistol team event, hailing from Jhajjar town, will be India’s brightest medal hopes in Tokyo next year. 


World at their feet

Guess how many world champions India has produced in Olympic sports till now? The number will surprise you — India has had 13 world champions, with PV Sindhu being the latest. The number may swell further shortly, what with four major World Championships (weightlifting, wrestling, boxing and athletics) lined up this month. Here's a quick glance at India's best... 

Karnam Malleswari, weightlifting

The iron lady from Andhra is India's first world champion. She lifted gold in the 54kg category with a total lift of 197.5kg in Istanbul in 1994.

Saikhom Mirabai Chanu, weightlifting

22 years after Malleswari's  triumph, Saikhom Mirabai Chanu created a new world record in the US in 2017. She lifted 194kg (85kg snatch and 109kg clean and jerk) in the 48kg category.

Mary Kom, boxing

For Mary Kom, winning a gold medal at World Championships is almost child's play. She won her first Worlds gold in 2002 in Antalya, and last year in New Delhi she clinched her sixth!

Jenny RL, boxing

The Mizoram boxer won gold in the light welterweight category at the 2006 women's World Amateur Boxing Championships in New Delhi.

Lekha KC, boxing

The Kerala boxer won gold in the 75kg category in the 2006 women's World Amateur Boxing Championships.

Laishram Sarita Devi, boxing

The Manipur boxer is famous for refusing to accept bronze at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. Very few would remember that she clinched gold in 2006 in New Delhi.

Sushil Kumar, wrestling

The two-time Olympics medallist won gold in the 2010 Moscow World Championships in the 66kg freestyle category. On either side of the Worlds medal, he picked up bronze and silver at the Olympics.

Abhinav Bindra, shooting

He's the first Indian shooter to win the ISSF World Shooting Championships gold, in Zagreb in 2006. The 10m air rifle shooter shot a 699.1 to take his place on the podium

Manavjit Singh Sandhu, shooting

The Ferozepur-born trap shooter shot a 143 to pip his Italian counterpart by one point for gold in the ISSF World Shooting Championships in Zagreb 2006. 

Tejaswini Sawant, shooting

The Kolhapur shooter was the first Indian woman to win gold in the 50m Rifle Prone event at the 2010 ISSF World Shooting Championships in Munich. She scored a world-record equalling 597+41. 

Ankur Mittal, shooting

The 27-year-old double-trap shooter from Sonepat shot down gold at Changwon, South Korea, in 2018. He also won a bronze in the team event in the same competition.  

Om Prakash Mitharwal, shooting

The 23-year-old Rajasthan shooter won gold at the 2018 ISSF World Championships in the 50m pistol event. With 50m event dropped from the Olympics, he has switched to the 10m event.

PV Sindhu, badminton

She won the much-awaited Worlds gold last month in Switzerland. The gold was her fifth medal at the Worlds. She now jointly holds the record for most Worlds badminton medals with Zhang Ning of China. 

Manu Bhaker : Pistol shooter

  • Age: 17 
  • Hometown: Jhajjar 
High points   

  • Won gold medal in the 2018 Youth Olympics
  • Won gold at the 2018 CWG with a record score 
Saurabh Chaudhary: Pistol shooter 

  • Age: 17 
  • Hometown: Meerut 
High points 

  • Won gold at the 2018 Asian Games 
  • Won gold at the 2018 World Championship with a world-record score of 245.5 

Figure this

22 Number of medals Indian shooters have won in the World Cup stages in the last one year. The year’s medal count is greater than their overall combined count (19) at the previous World Cup events.

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