NEW DELHI: The 2016 Olympics had fared poorly for India, marking the first time since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney that the Shooting contingent failed to return with a Medal. The event also signalled Abhinav Bindra‘s swansong, a champion athlete, who injected a belief that winning an individual gold medal at the Olympics was no longer a far-fetched dream.
If Bindra walking away from shooting was hard to come to terms with, the sport also threatened to plunge into obscurity due to plenty of reasons. Following the poor show at Rio, the Bindra-led NRAI’s plea of a systematic overhaul was ignored. The coaching staff and the pattern of conduction Nationals remained unchanged. Furthermore, Heena Sindhu attracted controversy when she pulled out of the Asian Airgun Shotgun Championship in Iran because it required women contestants to wear a hijab or headscarf.
To overcome the gloom of a medal-less Olympic, Indian shooting had to come up with one of its better years. And they did. Led by the torch-bearers of the sport, Jitu Rai, Gagan Narang and Sidhu, along with a host of youngsters put the country on notice with multiple medal finishes in international events.
The 2017 had plenty to reasons to celebrate India’s resurgence. We look back at what made this possible
Jitu-Heena strike golden partnership
In the highlight achievement of the year, Jitu and Sidhu triumphed in a category first of its kind. At the ISSF World Cup Finals in October, for the first time the mixed team event was tested before officially becoming a part of the next Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. Rai and Sidhu won gold in that category, in the 10m air pistol mixed team event in October. This was their second medals in a World Cup Final, the previous medals coming in individual events. Having qualified for the final in first place after shooting a score of 767 in the qualification round, Jitu-Sidhu shot a score of 483.4 in the five-team final to clinch the top spot. It was sweet redemption for Jitu and Sidhu, who had won gold twice earlier this year during the two World Cups in New Delhi and Gabala respectively. But since those were considered test events for the newly-introduced categories, the medals didn’t count. More so for Jitu, whose patent 50m pistol event was scrapped from the Olympics to make way for the mixed team event.
Their trailblazing partnership, on the back of consistent performances in the World Cups this year, is hopefully a sign of things to come.
Jitu banishes Olympic demons in style
At Rio last year, Jitu endured a forgettable campaign, crashing out of his pet 50m event without making the final. Winner of the gold medal in the same event in both the Commonwealth and Asian Games two years ago, Jitu showed rare signs of nerve going into the sixth and final series of ten shots in the qualification round and was way off the mark to end up overall 12th with a total of 554 out of 600. He thus, would return empty-handed after finishing eighth in the 10m event earlier.
Jitu started 2017 in emphatic fashion. He won the bronze medal in the men’s 10m air pistol event at World Cup in New Delhi, scoring a total of 216.7 points in the final round. It was the eighth World Cup medal of his career and the third overall for Indians at the event. Jitu then made it two medals in two days by winning gold in the men’s 50m air pistol final with a world record score of 230.1.
Narang beats world record
In the last few years, Narang may have donned the mentor’s hat, starting his own academy Gun for Glory. But that hasn’t affected the London Olympic bronze medallist from missing a beat. Following the disappointment of Rio, Narang had a rather fruitful campaign in 2017. He went past the 50m rifle prone world record at the International Shooting Competition of Hannover in May, even if that meant his effort fetched him silver medal. Narang bettered the record score of 249.8 points set by Japan’s Toshikatu Yamashita at the World Cup in New Delhi and 0.1 point short of gold medallist Karl Olssen’s 250.1 points. Next, in November, Narang won his second international silver of the year as India continued their strong showing at the Commonwealth Shooting Championship. In the final, Narang shot 246.3 to end just 1.4 points adrift the leader and settled for the second place. Even with limited performances at World Cups, Narang has plenty to offer, one of which will be the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Mittal extends India’s double-trap legacy
10 years removed from his debut as a 17-year old, Ankur Mittal won his first World Cup medal. It was silver he clinched in the men’s double trap shotgun event after scoring 74 points in the final round at the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi. But what made it special was that he emerged second beating the likes of Marco Innocenti of Italy and Britain’s Scott Stevens, both of whom had won silver and bronze respectively at the 2016 Olympic. If that was impressive enough, Mittal bettered his silver just a month later by winning a gold medal and pipping his Australian rival James Willet in the final in a world record-equalling effort in Mexico. Mittal ended with 75 points out of possible 80 in the six-man final to win India’s first medal in the competition. The same form Mittal took to the Asian Shotgun Championship and won his second international gold of the year. He fell short of claiming a first-place finish but another silver medal finish – at the World Shotgun Championship – meant that the 24-year-old finished the year ranked No. 1 ranking in his category. The double trap category in India in the past has been highlighted by the illustrious Rajyavardhan Rathore and Ronjan Sodhi, and Mittal, on the back of his current form, is doing justice to the good work his predecessors did.
Youngsters gunning for glory
If the established names kept the flag flying high, the lesser-known ones didn’t lag behind either. In February, 14-year-old Shapath Bharadwaj became the youngest member of the Indian contingent at the Shooting World Cup. He missed out on a medal after shooting 26 out of the first round of 30 targets for a sixth-place finish. He was up against some of the best shooters, and even outdid former World Cup gold medallist Davide Gaspirini of Italy in the shoot-off to enter the final. As a testament to what Shapath is capable of, Ronjan Sodhi, former world No 1 double trap shooter, had this to say about the child prodigy: “I haven’t run into a talent like Shapath in my entire career. He will soon be unstoppable.”
Pooja Ghatkar set the tone for India with a bronze in women’s 10m air rifle on the opening day of the competition. Mentored by Olympic medallist Gagan Narang, Pooja finished ahead of the likes of Najmeh Khedmati, the reigning Asian Games gold medallist from Iran. She eventually lost the spot to Ayonika Paul, who won silver.
In the same event, Sangram Dahiya clinched a silver medal in the men’s double trap after scoring 76 points in the final round. Dahiya, appearing in his maiden World Cup Final, gave tough competition to China’s Hu Binyuan in the final round. The same day, Amanpreet Singh had won bronze in the 50m pistol event. Amanpreet shot a score of 202.2 in the final to finish behind Serbia’s Damir Mikec (229.3) and Ukraine’s Oleh Omelchuk (228.0). Singh was also making his first appearance in a World Cup Final. Source : timesofindia