The sporting discipline of shooting is one of the most anticipated events ahead of each edition of the Olympics. A sport that not only tests the focus and concentration of the athletes, shooting also tests each shooter's physical strengths as well.
Shooting has been part of the Olympics setup since the sport's inception in 1896 and has been part of the games in every edition except for the 1904 and 1928 Olympics. In shooting, there are 15 gold medals up for grabs at the Olympics.
At the Tokyo Olympics 2020, there will be six gold medal events for the male and female categories, while for the mixed category, there are three gold medal events in this edition. Interestingly, this is for the first time in the history of shooting at the Olympic Games that there are an equal number of medals for men and women shooters.
India’s journey in shooting at the Olympics
Harihar Banerjee and Souren Choudhary were the first Indian shooters to participate in the Olympics. Harihar Banerjee participated in three events at the 1952 Olympics: 300m rifle, three positions, 50m rifle, three positions and in 50m rifle prone events while Souren Choudhary participated in only the 50m rifle prone position.
Maharaja Karni Singh of Bikaner was the first Indian Olympian to participate in five editions of the Olympics from the 1960 to 1980 Olympics (except for the 1976 Montreal Games) in Trap and Skeet events.
But the real kick for Indian shooters came at the 2000 Olympics when Anjali Bhagwat became the first Indian to qualify for the finals in 10m air rifle event for women. Abhinav Bindra, India’s most decorated Olympian qualified for his first final at the Olympics in 10m air rifle event for men at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Since then, the country has had one finalist in every edition of the Olympics in the 10m air rifle event for men. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won India’s first individual silver medal post-independence in the double trap event at the 2004 Games.
Abhinav Bindra would more than make it up for his jittery finals performance at the 2004 edition in the following edition where he shot an impeccable 104.5 from his 10 allocated shots to win a historic Gold medal for India at the 2008 Olympics. At the 2012 London Olympics, Gagan Narang displayed some amazing form to win India yet another medal (bronze) in 10m air rifle. Vijay Kumar too joined the party with a silver medal in 25m Rapid Fire Pistol event.
At the 2016 Olympics, however, none of the Indian shooters could return home with a medal. This led NRAI (National Rifle Association of India) to seriously introspect on what went wrong at the games. The rearguard action led by Abhinav Bindra has proven to be a tonic that Indian shooters needed and the results that they have shown up since then have been brilliant.
In this article, we will have a look at some of the rifle shooting prospects who have put up amazing performances in the current Olympic cycle (’16-’20).
10m Air Rifle (Women)
The 10m Air Rifle for women has been one of the most fruitful events for Indian shooting contingent in the current Olympic cycle. This was the first event in which Indian team (let alone Indian shooting team) earned Olympic quota courtesy Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela with their respective second and fourth-place finish at the 2018 ISSF World Shooting Championships. Other than Apurvi and Anjum, shooters like Elavenil Valarivan and Mehuli Ghosh too have been super consistent in this cycle, especially in 2019.
Apurvi Chandela has been part of the Indian shooting contingent since a very long time now. She shot to fame with a Commonwealth Games Gold medal in her pet event at the 2014 edition. She also represented India at the 2016 Rio Olympics but fared poorly, finishing 34th. However, since 2016, she has improved in terms of her consistency. 2019 was a tremendous year for her as she won gold medals at the Munich and New Delhi World Cups to sign off a sensational year for her.
Anjum Moudgil started off as a 50m rifle 3 positions shooter. However, her move to the 10m Air Rifle event has been pretty smooth thus far. She won a silver medal at the 2018 World Championships in this event and sealed a spot for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Currently ranked third in the world, she will be expected to add a medal to India's Tokyo Olympics 2020 medal tally.
2019 was a breakthrough year for 20-year-old Elavenil Valarivan. She displayed some amazing form to win gold medals at the Rio World Cup and Putian World Cup Finals. She is currently ranked 1st in the world but as there are only two shooters who can represent the country in a particular event in shooting, she will have to wait for her opportunity at the big stage.
10m Air Rifle (Men)
10m Air Rifle for men has been one event which has yielded a lot of success to Indian shooters historically, with shooters like Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang. This Olympic cycle, however, the country has had some new faces in this event but they have been equally consistent.
17-year-old Divyansh Singh Panwar booked an Olympic quota in 10m Air Rifle men’s event when he won a silver medal at the 2019 Beijing ISSF World Cup. Since then, he has moved up the ranks quickly and has become India’s best shooter in this event. He’s currently ranked second in the world and lot will be expected out of him at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Deepak Kumar booked the second quota place for India in this event at the 2019 Asian Shooting Championships when he won a bronze medal for India. He has reached finals in various ISSF World Cup events over this cycle but has missed out on a podium finish till now.
He had also reached the 2018 World Shooting Championships finals which was the first qualifying event for shooting, but he could not seal an Olympic quota there. Instead, he had to wait until the last qualifying tournament to book a ticket to Tokyo. He has seen many ups and downs in this cycle, which has made him a very tough shooter. 2020 could possibly be his year.
10m Air Rifle (Mixed Event)
2020 Olympics will see the debut of 10m Air Rifle mixed team event. India’s performance in this event has been brilliant. This performance does not come as a surprise, for the country boasts of some world-class shooters in individual events. The pairing of Divyansh Singh Panwar and Anjum Moudgil yielded India two World Cup medals in this event in 2019. Apurvi paired up with Deepak Kumar to win a silver medal in this event at ISSF Rio World Cup 2019.
It would be interesting to see what combination India will opt for in this event at the 2020 Olympics. However, whatsoever the combination is, this event is India’s brightest hope among rifle shooting prospects.
50m Rifle 3 Position events
Long-range shooting events have not been the Indian shooters' forte. Although we have had shooters like Gagan Narang and Sanjeev Rajput in this event, who have won medals at various World Cups the overall success in this event has been few and far between.
This time again, the onus will be on the veteran Sanjeev Rajput and teenager Aishwarya Pratap Singh Tomar to bring home Olympic glory in this event and create history.
As far as the women’s 50m Rifle 3 Position event is concerned, India have pocketed a quota place via veteran shooter Tejaswini Sawant, but, she will be subject to confirmatory trials before her place in the 2020 Olympic squad is cemented down.
The primary reason for her going through the trial is her performances that have been inconsistent over the cycle. There is a provision of exchange of quota places which means that the quota earned by any athlete can be transferred to any other athlete who missed out on quota but has had much consistent run in the lead up to the Olympics.
The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) have asked Tejaswini to go through the trial to decide if she has a good chance to medal at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 or not. Otherwise, that spot can be transferred to another shooter as per NRAI’s liking.
Anjum Moudgil too will be a participating in this event at the 2020 Olympics but she has been focusing more on the 10m Air Rifle event since earning a quota place in that event at the 2018 ISSF World Shooting Championships.
But she has had success in the positional event previously at World Cup Series of 2018 when she won a silver medal at the 2018 ISSF World Cup Guadalajara and hence she cannot be written off to make an impact in this event as well.
Overall, we can say that the Indian rifle shooting contingent, especially in 10m Air Rifle events (women, mixed team and men) looks in a very healthy shape at this moment to write a glorious chapter in the history of Indian shooting, come the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
But before the global event, quite a few of these qualified athletes will be in focus at the 2020 ISSF World Cup Series (rifle) which kick-starts in New Delhi from 15th March 2020.Published 11 Feb 2020, 14:04 IST