India has had very limited success at the Olympics. Although India leads the overall medal tally in Field Hockey at the quadrennial event with eight gold medals, the last podium finish came in the 1980 edition.
The failure to deliver success in hockey saw a paradigm shift and India started developing athletes for individual events. Sports like Boxing, Wrestling, and Shooting became more popular among the new generation of Indians.
Abhinav Bindra's success at the 2008 Olympics has made shooting a popular sport in the country.
People have started to recognize Indian shooters and many of them are being touted as medal favourites at the Tokyo Olympics. However, shooting took a lot of time to gain popularity in India and the fan following of the sport has increased manifolds in the last couple of decades.
History of Indian shooting at the Olympics
Harihar Banerjee was the 1st Indian shooter to represent India at the Olympics in 1952. Another Indian shooter fondly remembered by everyone is Maharaja Karni Singh of Bikaner. He became a sports icon for many Indians. He was also the first Indian Olympian to represent India in five Olympics.
He participated in the shotgun events of trap and skeet between the 1960 and 1980 Olympics barring the 1976 Montreal edition. His best result came in the trap event at the 1960 Olympics when he finished as 8th best in a field of 66 shooters.
Although the achievements of Karni Singh were quite significant, they were suppressed by the success of Indian hockey which grabbed the limelight.
The rise of Indian shooters on the world stage
In the last decade of the 20th century, Indian shooters began to put up some consistent performances in continental championships and multisport events. The resurrection act was started by the likes of Jaspal Rana and Anjali Bhagwat. Their perseverance and success promoted the sport of shooting in India.
Despite a significant improvement, the performances of Indian shooters were not up to the mark at the Olympics. The likes of Soma Dutta, Jaspal Rana and Abha Dhillan managed to qualify for the Olympics but didn't put in any great performances at their respective events to win a medal.
2000 Olympics: The beginning of something special
The most significant performance at the Olympics by an Indian shooter came at the 2000 Olympics. Anjali Bhagwat became the first shooter to qualify for the finals in any shooting event for India when she booked a spot in the finals of the 10-meter air rifle event for women at the 2000 Olympics.
Anjali Bhagwat's performance was good enough to inspire an array of budding shooters in India. There was a sense of belief among many shooting aspirants in the country. The 2000 Sydney games also marked the debut Olympics for Abhinav Bindra, who missed the ticket to the final in the 10-meterter air rifle for men by a single point.
2004 Olympics: Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore creates history
The 2004 Olympics will always remain etched in the memory of Indian fans. It was the 1st time that India won a medal in shooting at the Olympics. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore qualified for the finals of the Double Trap for men in 5th place with a score of 135 hits out of a possible 150.
Back in the day, the scores of the qualifications also added up in the finals. So Rathore was effectively coming from behind in the finals. He kept his nerve and scored a brilliant score of 44/50 to reach a total of 179/200 and became the 1st ever Indian individual silver medalist at the Olympics.
2008 Olympics: Abhinav Bindra, third time lucky and how!
The 2008 Olympics proved to be a stepping stone for the Indian shooting contingent. Abhinav Bindra moved on from the disappointments of the 2000 and 2004 Olympics to win a historic gold medal for India in the 10-meter air rifle event.
He was lying down at the 4th position after the qualification round with 596/600 points. The leader after the qualification round, Henri Häkkinen of Finland was two points clear of him.
In the finals, Bindra was a man on a mission and had the perfect game. He scored a brilliant 104.5/109 points in the final to take his cumulative total to 700.5 which fetched him a gold medal.
2012 Olympics: The best performance produced by Indian shooters
The 2012 Olympics again brought out some brilliant performances from our shooting contingent. Gagan Narang was in great form in the 2009-12 Olympic cycle. His perseverance paid him rich dividends at the 2012 Olympics when he won a well-deserved bronze medal in the finals of a very competitive 10-meter air rifle event with a score of 701.1 points.
Vijay Kumar, too, was in good shape in the lead up to the 2012 Olympics. He reached his top form in the finals of the 25-meter Rapid Fire Pistol event to win a brilliant silver medal with 30 hits out of 40.
Although Joydeep Karmakar didn't win a medal, his valiant effort in the finals of the 50-meter rifle prone position saw him finish 4th with a final score of 699.1 points. Overall, the Indian shooting contingent put up an absolutely brilliant performance at the 2012 Olympics.
2016 Olympics: A major setback
The high of the 2012 Olympics was followed by a major low at the 2016 Rio Olympics. No one had imagined that the Indian shooting team would return empty-handed from Rio. But as fate would have it, none of the Indian shooters managed to win a medal.
Abhinav Bindra, in his fifth and final Olympics, put up a very inspiring performance but finished without any medals after scoring a 10.0 in the tiebreak for the bronze medal while Serhiy Kulish scored a 10.6. Big names like Gagan Narang, Jitu Rai and Mairaj Ahmed Khan were not able to give their best in their respective events and eventually, Indian shooters came back home empty-handed.
2020 Olympics: The optimism surrounding Indian shooters
The Indian shooting team has managed to put up strong performances in the current Olympic cycle. The buzz surrounding the Indian team for the Tokyo Olympics is generating a lot of positive vibes.
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With the Tokyo Olympics around the corner, Indians can be hopeful that their shooters will give their best and return home with a rich haul of medals.