In a country that has seen cricket dominate the sporting headlines for several years, orther sports have found it difficult to attian as much recognition and hence dont find as many followeers. But if along with Badminton, there is one sport that has had an increase in fan base over the last few years, it is shooting.
With the likes of Jitu Rai and Heena Sidhu at present and Anjali Bhagwat and Manavjit Singh Sandhu, performing spectacularly well on the world stage in the years gone by, shooting has defeinitely found viewers in India.
Here’s a list of the Top 10 Indian shooters of all time:
An inspiration for several aspiring shooters, Abhinav Bindra’s journey as a top-notch shooter began at a very early age of 15, when he became the youngest participant at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, that were held in Kuala Lumpur. After a disappointing maiden Olympics, in Sydney in 2000, he first tasted success on the global stage at the 2001 Munich World Cup, when he fired a score a 597/600 to clinch the bronze medal in the 10m Air Rifle category. That score was also the new junior world record at the time.
He continued his impressive showing the following year, at the Commonwealth Games, that were held in Manchester, winning the silver in the 10m Air Rifle Singles category and clinching the bronze in the 10m Air Rifle pairs category. Despite entering the 2004 Athens Olympics in good form, the 32-year-old once again failed to raise his game on the big stage and finished at a shattering seventh in the finals, despite finishing in third at the qualification stage.
However, every champion has a turning point in his career and Bindra too had one in 2006, when he clinched Gold at the 2006 ISSF World Cup, held in Zagreb in Croatia and also bettered his performance from Manchester to Melbourne at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, where he won Gold in the 10m Air Rifle pairs category and a bronze in Singles category of the same event.
But possibly Abhinav’s greatest achievement came 48 months later in 2008, when on August 11th, he clinched the Gold medal in the 10m Air Rifle event at the Beijing Olympics, thereby becoming the country’s first individual gold medalist at the Summer Games.
Two years later, he added another feather to his cap, when he led the Indian contingent out at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and then went on win Gold in the 10m Air Rifle Pairs category.
After his stellar performance in 2008, much was expected out of him at the 2012 London Olympics but unfortunately, he didn't have the best of times at the Games, failing to go past the qualification round. But he returned with a vengeance 2 years later, where, a day after announcing this would his final Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, he clinched the Gold in the 10m Air Rifle event.
Abhinav has also been a recipient of many prestigious awards, including the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2001 and with Rio 2016, expected to be his Olympic swansong, one can expect him to put forth a strong show and hopefully clinch another medal before bidding adieu.
2.Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore
Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore first tasted success for India at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, where he won Gold in the both the individual and pairs category of the Double Trap event. He then went on to secure a bronze in the 2003 Shotgun Championships in Cyprus.
But probably his most memorable achievement as a shooter came the following year at the 2004 Athens Olympics, where he won a silver medal in the Double Trap event, which also turned to be India’s only medal in the Games. He was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2004 for his silver medal-winning feat.
Two years later at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, he won Gold in the individual category of the Double Trap event and silver in the pairs category of the same event and carried that form into the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, clinching the silver in Double Trap teams category and bronze in the individual category.
The 45-year-old also enjoyed a great time at the Asian Clay Target Championships, where he won 4 Gold medals and between 2002 and 2006, won a total of 25 International medals at various Double Trap championships.
Following his voluntary retirement from the Indian Army in 2013, he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) and was sworn-in as the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting last year.
3. Vijay Kumar
Hailing from a small village in Hamirpur district of Himachal Pradesh, Vijay Kumar shot to fame at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, winning the Gold in the Singles as well as the Pairs category of the 25m Rapid Fire Pistol event and also won the bronze in the same event at the Asian Games, that were held in Doha that year.
He further enhanced his reputation at the 2009 ISSF World Championships in Beijing, where he clinched the bronze and carried that form into the 2010 Commonwealth Games, winning a second successive Gold in the Singles as well as pairs category of the 25m Rapid Pistol Fire and winning a silver and a bronze in the 25m centre-field pistol singles and pairs respectively.
He continued his good run in 2010, by winning the bronze at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games in the 25m Centre Fire Pistol category and then won his second straight silver medal at the 2011 World Championships in Fort Benning in the 25m Rapid Fire Pistol category.
But a year later the 30-year-old scaled the biggest high of his career so far, by winning the silver at the 2012 London Olympics in the 25m Rapid Fire Pistol event. Along with wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, who won a bronze himself, he was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2012. 48 months later, Vijay won yet another silver at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.
With such spectacular feats in the past few years, much will be expected out of him as he gears up for the 2016 Olympics next year.
Gagan Narang first burst onto the scene, when he won the Gold at the Afro-Asian Games, that were held in Hyderabad in 2003. Despite having a poor Athens Olympics, where he failed to qualify for the finals, the Chennai-born shooter made a sterling comeback at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, winning 4 Gold medals- 2 in the 10m Air Rifle event and 2 in 50m 3 Position event. His 2006 then got even better, when he secured a bronze each in the 10m Air Rifle team category and the 50m 3 Positions individual and team category respectively.
He qualified for the finals of the 2008 World Cup, after winning a gold in the World Cup earlier in the year, where he created the universe record, courtesy his perfect score of 600 in the qualification round and 103.5 in the finals.
However, the Olympic medal continued to Gagan as he failed to qualify for the finals again in the Beijing Games in 2008, but despite that disappointment continued to put in good performances, winning the silver in the 10m Air Rifle event in both the individual and team category at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010. For his excellent achievements, Gagan was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2011.
His watershed moment finally arrived 2 years at the London Olympics, where he clinched the bronze medal in the 10m Air Rifle event. That meal was the first of India’s 6 medals at the Summer Games that year.
Following his bronze win at London, Gagan won a silver in the 50m Rifle Prone category and a bronze in the 50m Rifle 3 Position category. With the Rio Games next year, also expected to be his final Olympics, one can hope for Gagan to put in his best forward and hopefully, win successive medals in the Summer Games
He may have made a late entry to competitive shooting, but Jitu Rai has certainly made up for that loss by putting in stupendous performances on a consistent basis on the world stage.
Currently ranked 1st in the 10m Air pistol rankings and 4th in the 50m pistol category, the 27-year-old had an unbelievable 2014, where he won the Gold in the 10m Air Rifle category and clinched the silvers in the 10m Air pistol category and 50m pistol category at the ISSF World Cup, thereby becoming the first Indian to win 2 medals at a single World Cup.
He backed that up with yet another silver in the World Championships, held in Grenada and then went one notch above at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, by winning the Gold in 50m pistol event and then clinching the Gold and the bronze in the 50m pistol and 10m Air pistol team category at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
India would certainly be hoping that Jitu continues to deliver exceptional results for the country and helps them win a 3rd successive medal in shooting at the Rio Olympics next year.
6.Manavjit Singh Sandhu
A trap shooter, Manavjit Singh Sandhu burst on to the scene at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, winning the Gold in Trap team category. Individually, the 38-year-old first tasted success at the 2006 ISSF World Championships, where he clinched the Gold in the Trap category, thereby becoming the first Indian shooter to be crowned world champion and also won a silver in Trap team category in the same World Cup.
Sandhu is also a two-time gold medalist at the ISSF World Cup, winning in Acapulco in 2010 and in Tucson in 2014 and has also won three bronze medals, along with winning a silver medal at World Cups.
After winning the Gold at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, Sandhu won a bronze in the individual Trap category at the Melbourne games in 2006 and Delhi games in 2010 and also was part of silver-winning trap team in Delhi in 2010.
The shooter also enjoyed success at the four Asian Games that he was part of, clinching 3 silvers i Trap team category in Bangkok('98), Busan('02) and Doha('06) respectively and also winning a silver in the Individual category in the Doha games. He was also part of the team, that won the bronze in the Trap team category at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games and holds the Asian record for firing 124/125 targets.
Another shooter who was extremely successful, particularly in the 10m Air Rifle and the 3 Position category was Anjali Bhagwat. The Mumbai-born shooter won an incredible 31 Gold medals during her career, that included victories at the 1999 Auckland Shooting Championships, where she won 3 Gold medals and then put in yet another fine performance at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, where she won the Gold in the 10m Air Rifle and 3 Position individual category and was part of the team that clinched the Gold in the respective events as well.
Bhagwat also had a very good Commonwealth Games campaign in 2006, in Melbourne, where she won Gold in the 3 Position Individual category and the 10m Air Rifle team category.
She became the first Indian to be awarded the ISSF Champion of Champions in 2002 and is also the only Indian shooter to have won the ISSF Champions Trophy in Air Rifle Men and Women Mixed event at Munich in 2002.
For her stellar achievements, she was awarded the Arjuna award in 2000 and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2003.
An Air pistol shooter, Samresh Jung had a successful 2002 Commonwealth Games, where in partnership with Jaspal Rana, he won two Gold medals in the free pistol pairs and in the open event of 25 m standard pistol pairs. In the following Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006, he was in contention to win as many 8 medals and won five Golds and one silver and one bronze and had a gun malfunction not occurred, might have secured a medal in the standard fire pistol competition as well.
At the closing ceremony of those Games, Jung was awarded the David Dixon Award in recognition of being the "Best Athlete of the 18th Commonwealth Games". Jung competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the 10m Air pistol and 50m air pistol events but couldn't qualify for the finals in both events.
He was awarded the Arjuna Award in 2002 and was also one of the few lucky ones to have got the chance to bear the Queen’s Baton at the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Sanjeev Rajput was part of the Men’s 5-0 Rifle Prone team that won the bronze at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and also clinched a bronze in the 50m Air Rifle prone category at the 2006 Doha Asian Games.
Although he failed to reach the finals of the 50m rifle prone event, he continued to put in strong performances on the world stage, by clinching the silver in the 10m Air Rifle Pairs category at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games and then scaled possibly the biggest high of his career a year later, when he won the Gold at the ISSF World Cup in Changwon in the 50m rifle 3 Position category.
Rajput competed at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where he won a silver in the 50m 3 Position Rifle event and also won a bronze in the 10m Air Rifle team event at the Asian Games in Incheon last year.
While there’s no doubt that the Indian shooting scene has been dominated by male shooters in today’s times, there are also a few female shooters who have been doing very well on the international circuit and one among them is 25-year-old Heena Sidhu.
The Ludhiana-born shooter clinched as many as 4 Gold medals at the 2008 Hungarian Open in the Women’s 10m Air Pistol category and them won 2 more Golds in the same category at the 2008 SAF Shooting Championships in Islamabad.
The Gold rush for her continued the following year as well, as she emerged on top of the podium once again, this time in the 2009 Munich Open where she won Gold in both the individual as well as team categories of the 50m Air pistol event.
The following year, Heena won her first Commonwealth Games Gold in Delhi in the Women’s 10m Air pistol team event and also won her first Asian Games medal, a bronze, the same year in the 10m Air Pistol individual category.
But perhaps Heena’s biggest achievement came in 2013 when she became the first Indian pistol shooter and just the third Indian shooter after Anjali Bhagwat and Gagan Narang to win a Gold in the ISSF World Cup finals. That and several other impressive performances propelled her to the top of the ISSF rankings for pistol shooters in April 2014.
Vijay Kumar clinched a silver for India in the 25m Air pistol event in the 2012 Olympics. One can hope its now Heena’s turn to clinch another medal for India in the pistol category next year.