Will the pressure get the better of the Indian shooting team at the Tokyo Olympics?

Indian shooter Manu Bhaker is a medal hope at the Tokyo Olympics
Indian shooter Manu Bhaker is a medal hope at the Tokyo Olympics

The below-par performance of the Indian shooting team at the 2021 ISSF World Cup Osijek stage has cropped up a lot of questions for the team management before the Tokyo Olympics.

With just four weeks to go until the Tokyo Olympics, the Indian shooting team ideally should have been peaking at this point. Instead, the Indian shooting team, especially the 10m air rifle men's and women's teams, have failed big time to put up solid performances at the 2021 ISSF World Cup in Osijek.

The pressure of the Olympics gets to the best of athletes

These performances may be due to the Olympic pressure that has wreaked havoc on some champion shooters in the past, as the Tokyo Olympics get closer.

Who can forget the Olympic meltdown that the American champion shooter Matthew Emmons had in his pet event, the 50m rifle 3 positions, when he shot a 0.0 and a 4.4 at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics on his last shots to finish out of the podium spots?

Also Read: Shooting: Looking at some of India's best performances at the Olympics

A similar meltdown happened with Abhinav Bindra at the 2004 Athens Olympics, when he finished 7th in the finals of the 10m air rifle event after qualifying for the finals at the 3rd position. However, his comeback story from the 2008 Beijing Olympics overshadowed his failure in the 2004 Olympics.

An athlete cracking under the pressure of the Olympics is nothing new. But this time around, the whole Indian shooting team seems to have cracked under pressure as the Tokyo Olympics are coming up.

More so, the rifle team comprising of the likes of Divyansh Singh Panwar, Deepak Kumar, Elavenil Valarivan and Apurvi Chandela drew a blank zero at the 2021 ISSF World Cup Osijek stage in individual, team and mixed team events.

The story of the Indian shooting team for the pistol events does present a much better story, with the likes of Saurabh Chaudhary and the women's team winning bronze medals at the 2021 ISSF World Cup Osijek stage.

However, with the likes of China and Korea skipping this particular World Cup, our pistol shooters need to be introspective as well. Combined with the failures at the ISSF World Cup, any success has to be tempered as the team turns towards the Tokyo Olympics.

Has the Indian shooting team cracked under pressure to perform at the Tokyo Olympics?

The current Indian shooting team has seen a lot of young stars rise and become a force to reckon with on the world stage. They have raised the popularity of the sport of shooting amongst the Indian masses with an array of impressive performances in the Tokyo Olympic cycle.

Also Read: Tokyo Olympics: How Indian shooting aimed for the stars and got there

The Indian shooting team for the Rio Olympics comprised of a lot more experienced shooters than the current lot. The likes of Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang and Heena Sidhu had been around for a long time. Still, that particular team was not able to fetch any medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

One can argue that Olympic pressure can get the better of any athlete irrespective of their experience with the way the Indian shooting team had a meltdown at the 2016 Olympics. But the way the current Indian shooting team had been performing at the world level since 2019, they had put that argument to rest.

However, the subdued performance of the 10m air rifle team at the 2021 ISSF World Cup in Osijek has put a lot of question marks on the preparation of the team for the Tokyo Olympics, with a lot of thinking to be done.

Is history repeating itself for the likes of Apurvi Chandela in the build up to the Tokyo Olympics?

Before the 2016 Rio Olympics, the likes of Apurvi Chandela and Jitu Rai came up with some solid performances at the world level. After winning a gold medal in the 10m air rifle event at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Apurvi had an even more wonderful 2015.

She won a silver medal at the ISSF World Cup Final in the 10m air rifle event to go with a bronze medal at the 2015 ISSF World Cup Munich stage.

However, just before the 2016 Olympics, she lost her form. Her performances dipped drastically at multiple World Cup events in 2016 and she was far from her best at the Olympics.

This time around, again she had a wonderful 2019. She won a couple of gold medals at the ISSF World Cup stages in 2019. However, since the beginning of 2021, she has looked in very bad form yet again leading up to the Tokyo Olympics.

Apurvi's scores have been nowhere close to what she had been putting up in 2019. If this continues, she will have to wait another four years to get this Olympic monkey off her back.

Mixed events will be a big hope for the Indian shooting team at the Tokyo Olympics

Realistically speaking, the best bet for the Indian shooting team to win an Olympic medal at the Tokyo Olympics will be the mixed events in both rifle and pistol disciplines. But the mixed rifle team of Divyansh & Elavenil and Anjum & Deepak didn't perform that well at the 2021 ISSF World Cup Osijek stage.

However, the mixed pistol team of Saurabh & Manu have qualified for the gold medal match while Abhishek & Yashaswini have made it to the bronze medal match as we write this article.

The Indian shooting team is one of the very few teams around the world that have equally strong male and female athletes in the 10m rifle and pistol events. The coaches should be well aware of this fact and need to press forward on this advantage as the Tokyo Olympics get closer.

The Indian shooting team needs to work on their strengths more rather than working on their weaknesses if they are to succeed at the Tokyo Olympics.

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Edited by Rohit Mishra
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