With the IOC indirectly approving the Tokyo Olympics, now is the time to make it count. Most of those who wish to participate will now eagerly want to give it their best. This includes India, for whom Tokyo 2021 is make or break. This holds true especially for Indian shooters, who had a dismal showing at Rio 2016.
Despite sending one of the finest teams to Rio, Team India returned empty handed from shooting. Apart from Jitu Rai and Abhinav Bindra, none of the others could even manage to make it to the final 8.
However, with an entirely young batch with no previous experience, the time is ripe. The current batch is the largest contingent from India to represent the nation at any Tokyo Olympics. With someone as young as Saurabh Chaudhary, who is just 19, and someone as experienced as Mairaj Ahmad Khan, who is above 45 years, Team India has the right mixture of youth and experience.
The following Indians have made the cut to the Tokyo Olympics in shooting, irrespective of gender -
1) Angad Vir Singh Bajwa [Men's Skeet]
2) Mairaj Ahmad Khan [Men's Skeet]
3) Sergeant Deepak Kumar, IAF [Men's 10 m. Air Rifle]
4) Divyansh Singh Panwar [Men's 10 m. Air Rifle]
5) Master Chief Petty Officer [Men's 50 m. Rifle 3 Positions]
6) Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar [Men's 50 m. Rifle 3 Positions]
7) Abhishek Varma [Men's 10 m. Air Pistol]
8) Saurabh Chaudhary [Men's 10 m. Air Pistol]
9) Manu Bhaker [Women's 10 m. Air Pistol and Women's 25 m. Pistol]
10) Yashaswini Deswal [Women's 10 m. Air Pistol]
11) Apurvi Chandela [Women's 10 m. Air Rifle]
12) Elavenil Valarivan [Women's 10 m. Air Rifle]
13) Rahi Sarnobat [Women's 25 m. Pistol]
14) Anjum Moudgil [Women's 50 m. Rifle 3 Positions]
15) Tejaswini Sawant [Women's 50 m. Rifle 3 Positions]
Golden opportunity for Indian shooters to come out of the horror of the Rio Olympics
Tokyo Olympics, like for Indian wrestling and boxing, is also a golden opportunity for Indian shooting as well. Indian shooting has a unique relationship with Olympics, like South Africa has with the ICC Cricket World Cup, or the Netherlands with FIFA World Cup. They are some of the best, but surprisingly fail to prove it when put to the test.
However, this time, it won't be the same. They have the best opportunity to prove that Rio 2016 was an abberation. With some of the best in the pack, they just have to keep themselves cool, and their talent will do the rest.
One of the first to leave for Tokyo, the Indian shooters are also one of the first to get vaccinated. As such, they have ample time to ponder over their flaws and their strengths. While it would be interesting to see how they are battling the double challenges of competition and COVID 19, here is an insight into who can bring laurels for our nation.
High expectations from Manu Bhaker
While Indian shooting has earned many historic laurels for India at the Olympics, it has been an all-male bastion. Not a single woman has won a medal for India at the Olympics, and the only one who went close to doing so was Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat. The veteran shooter made the cut for Women's 10 m Air Rifle at the Sydney Olympics, but finished last amongst the 8 finalists.
So how is this connected to Manu Bhaker? The young shooter is one of the brightest hopes for an Olympic medal since Anjali Bhagwat. She is not only impressive with her shooting, but also consistent. Manu created history with her smashing debut at the Youth Olympics, where she won a gold medal in the 10 m air pistol category.
In addition to the gold at the Youth Olympics, Manu has a number of medals to her credit. Commonwealth Games, World Championships, you name it and she has it. As such, one would expect nothing less than a podium finish from her when she tries her luck at Tokyo. The only thing she needs to keep in control is her jitters, which prevented her from creating history at the Jakarta Asian Games in 2018.
Could Saurabh Chaudhary eclipse Abhinav Bindra?
In 2018, when a young lad from Meerut was chosen over star shooter Jitu Rai, many sports observers frowned. However, he proved everyone wrong with a historic show at Jakarta Asian Games 2018. He won gold at the young age of 16, in a discipline that has been a playground for South Korea over the years.
Since then, Saurabh Chaudhary has never looked back. One of the top contenders from India, Saurabh could win a historic Olympic gold medal on debut. In addition to a historic gold medal from Youth Olympics, Saurabh has a gold medal from the ISSF World Cup and ISSF Junior World Championships as well.
So what makes Saurabh a prime contender for a historic gold medal? He is one of the only few players who has been extremely consistent with his performances. Apart from that, he is the rare player who could beat the Koreans at their own game. Let it be known that the South Koreans are the undisputed pistol champions. Despite that, not a single Korean champion has been able to beat Saurabh in his unconventional tactics.
Rahi Sarnobat - the surprise package
In 2018, when the women's 25 m. pistol event was underway, two women shooters made India proud by entering the finals. One was the young sensation Manu Bhaker. The other was Rahi Sarnobat, who shot to fame with the Commonwealth Games of 2010, and had just managed to make her cut to Jakarta Asian Games.
However, when the finals came to a close, the equations were quite different. Contrary to expectations, Manu Bhaker finished sixth out of eight finalists. But Rahi Sarnobat held her nerve as she overcame an excruciating tie breaker. She became the first ever woman from India to win a gold medal in shooting at the Asian Games, with a Games record score of 34.
Ever since, the Maharashtrian shooter has never looked back, and she can turn out to be a surprise package in Tokyo like Vijay Kumar in London 2012. As she competes in Women's 25 m pistol, all Rahi requires is the same cool mind and her focus on consistency. If she does that, sky is the limit for her.
Mairaj Ahmad Khan and Angad Singh Bajwa - the dark horses
Another discipline where India can expect a surprise or two is the skeet category. Unlike the rifle and shotgun categories, skeet has not been India's cup of tea. Yet one man almost broke the myth had it not been for bad luck at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Now, five years later, Mairaj Ahmad Khan, India's first skeet shooter who almost made it to the podium, is back in action. This time, he is not alone. He will be accompanied by rookie shooter Angad Vir Singh Bajwa, who jointly holds the world record for Men's Skeet Finals, with a perfect score of 60 out of 60 shots.
The two are dark horses because they are capable of springing up surprises. Mairaj Ahmad Khan almost made it to the finals in Rio, but tough luck played spoilsport in the shoot-off. As such, it would be interesting to see whether the two can script history, just as Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore did in Athens in 2004. The unconventional soldier opened India's account in shooting, with a silver medal in the Men's Double Trap event.
Time for Tejaswini Sawant to make it count
The most surprising inclusion for the Tokyo Olympics from India might be Tejaswini Sawant. The shooter, once a common name at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, has surprisingly never made it to the Olympics, despite giving it her best.
She is currently making her unconventional debut at the age of 41, with Anjum Moudgil in the Women's 50 m. Rifle 3 Positions at the Tokyo Olympics. However, her experience is what makes her a contender for a historic podium finish. That is also exactly what gave Subedar Major [now retired Honorary Captain] Vijay Kumar a surprise silver medal at the London Olympics
Tejaswini Sawant has vast experience in her favor. She has won a number of medals at various tournaments. In 2010, she broke the world record of Women's 50 m. rifle Prone at the World Championships. As such, Tejaswini Sawant can break the jinx associated with Indian women shooters. If someone deserves to be on the podium, apart from Manu Bhaker, it is certainly Sawant.