Indian shooters, on whom the nation has pinned high hopes for medals this year in Tokyo Olympics – no less than gold from some of them – are topping the medals table in the ongoing 2021 ISSF World Cup currently on in New Delhi. India, at the end of Monday’s events, had six gold, four silver and as many bronze for a total of 14 medals, way ahead of second-placed USA (3-2-1).
ISSF World Cup in Delhi happens to be the first tournament for the Indian shooters after a long break due to the Covid pandemic. And the manner in which the Indian shooters collected medals, they seem to have continued from where they left last year pre-Covid.
Ace rifle shooter Gagan Narang could not hide his joy after his ward Elavenil Valarivan combined with Divyansh Singh Panwar to ward off the Hungarian pair of Ezler Denes and Istvan Peni to win the gold in the 10m air rifle mixed team event at the ISSF World Cup on Monday.
In a short video message after the final that India won 16-10, the 2012 London Games bronze medallist, said:
“What an exciting final that was, where India took the gold with, Elavenil and Divyansh being world No. 1 and 2, and Ezler Denes and Istvan Peni, who is world No. 1 taking. Amazing shooting, very high class performance by both these teams.”
India’s other gold medals in the ISSF World Cup so far came from Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary in 10m air pistol mixed team event; Chaudhary, Shahzar Rizvi and Abhishek Verma in air pistol men’s team event; the trio of Bhaker, Shri Nivetha Paramanantham and Yashaswini Singh Deswal in the air pistol women’s team event; the Indian men’s skeet team of Gurjoat Khangura, Mairaj Ahmad Khan and Angad Vir Singhand Bajwa, and Yashaswini Singh Deswal in 10m air pistol women.
Add to this, India’s Paralympic medal hopeful Avani Lekhara won silver in the 10m air rifle standing SH1 event of the 2021 World Shooting Para Sport World Cup in Al Ain, UAE, on Monday.
Former Olympian shooter and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Suma Shirur is pleased that shooting competitions in the international arena have resumed after a long gap.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda from New Delhi, Shirur, currently a high-performance coach of the junior Indian rifle team, said
“It is a very tough situation that the whole sporting fraternity is in right now. This World Cup has come as a breather for everyone who has been waiting for a competition to happen. Since we have to live with the fact that Covid is all around us, but at the same time, Olympics is happening this year. We have to find a way out. Participation in this World Cup in itself shows the eagerness that most of the athletes wanted to come out and compete. This World Cup is a very important part of preparation for the Olympics.”
Shirur, a finalist at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, said the World Cup results so far over the last couple of days have been of “a mixed bag”.
“Some results are good, some are not so good. But the results give us a good indication of what needs to be done and how to build up for the Olympics. I am quite positive all the wrinkles in the shooters’ technique and execution will be ironed out. Since this is the first competition post-Covid, it cannot be taken as a true indicator of the preparation. It gives us the idea that we need to work upon it. Having said that, it has not been bad.”
The 46-year-old Shirur is based in Panvel, Navi Mumbai, and has her own shooting academy, Lakshya Shooting Club at the Karnala Sports Academy premises in New Panvel. The country’s elite rifle shooters regularly visit her for guidance during off-season and before competitions.
One may have thought that the near one-year break from competition may have brought in some rustiness in the shooters’ performances. But not so. Shirur kept in touch with her shooters through the online medium while also frequently traveling to the national capital for the national camps once things began to open up and travel restrictions eased a bit.
The Arjuna award winner, Shirur said that the online sessions are a blessing that we embraced in the Covid times. I still rely heavily on that tool to stay in touch with all my athletes. With the travel restrictions and the Covid restraints – not all the shooters were able to come to wherever I was – I kept in touch with them through online while they were tucked in the safe confines of their homes. Having said that, it is important to meet once in a while through camps. We might resort to this until the whole situation eases up.
Shirur said the lockdown last year was like a complete lay-off for even the country’s top shooters including Manu Bhaker and Elavenil Valarivan. But the way in which they performed in the ongoing ISSF World Cup, they did not show major hiccups.
Shirur, a former world record holder by scoring 400/400 in the Asian Championship in 2004 had the following take on shooters thriving on competition
“Technically, they were pretty much there in the World Cup. This is their first big competition. These are athletes who thrive on competition. With a couple more competitions, they will be where they belong,”
Throwing light into what the shooters were up to during the lockdown, Shirur said
“It has been different for different athletes. Some of them did not have access to shooting range. For some others, it was a complete lay off. I tried to keep in touch with through phone calls. They continued to do physical training. Even if not shooting, they kept their bodies physically ready for the action and work that would be coming post-lockdown. It has been really a mixed thing. Air rifle shooters could have training set up in their own houses. For some others, they could not even have a 10m range set up in their houses or wall holdings.”
Shirur was surprised that their shooting form has not dropped despite the long break. She said: “What has been an interesting experience for me is the ones who have not had access to the range at all, their levels have not dropped. That is an interesting understanding for me that as long as they are physically and mentally ready, doing visualisation and stuff, their levels are the same. That is very encouraging, knowing that mind is a very powerful weapon and if used in the right way, you can channelise your energy and go through the processes.”
Suma Shirur's Road Map For Shooting Competitions Post ISSF World Cup In Build Up To Tokyo Olympics
It was not only the Indian shooters who were facing lack of competition. Shooters the world over were in the same boat. While the ISSF calendar has been laid out for the year, Shirur was not sure what the next tournament for the Indian shooters is considering the spike in Covid cases.
“It is important to have competitions, though not necessarily as huge as the World Cup but bilateral or tri-nation tournaments where we could have shooters small in number but high in competitive level. We could have top-notch competitors together that is definitely manageable.”
Shirur said other nations were also interested in this kind of arrangement. “All the nations are looking forward to that. Some coaches of other countries were asking me if we were open for this kind of an arrangement. All the countries would device a plan to stay competitive.”
While thanking the National Rifle Association of India president Raninder Singh and Sports Authority of India for taking the steps in arranging camps for the shooters during Covid, Shirur said even competitions within the country would keep the momentum going for the shooters all the way up to the Olympics. “With all the uncertainties that lay ahead, it is difficult to plan. Even if we cannot travel overseas, am sure there will be competitions in the country to keep the shooters going,” she said.
As the last resort, she said there could be online matches. “They are better in the sense it is better than nothing, though you are still in the comforts of your home.”