Sports shooting (or just shooting) is one discipline in which India are genuine medal contenders at multi-sport events like the Olympics, the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games.
Although Indian shooters have produced some outstanding performances at these events over the years, there have been a fair few disappointments as well.
In the Olympics, Indian shooters have won 1 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze medal. These numbers might not sound huge, but when we consider that the 1st of the four shooting medals that India won came at the 2004 Olympics, these numbers tell us that India are a rising powerhouse in the sport.
Abhinav Bindra won India's 1st ever Olympic gold medal in an individual event at the 2008 Olympics in shooting.
The Indian shooting contingent had a great 2012 Games and came back with a couple of medals in their kitty. This was courtesy of Vijay Kumar's silver medal-winning performance in the 25 meter Rapid Fire Pistol event and Gagan Narang's bronze medal in the 10 meter Air Rifle event.
Cut to the 2016 Rio Olympics, and the Indian shooting team looked very strong on paper, with the likes of Bindra, Jitu Rai and Mairaj Ahmed Khan being in scintillating form in their respective events in the lead up to the Olympics.
Jitu Rai was India's biggest hope for an Olympic medal at the 2016 games. But as fate would have it, he went on to finish 8th in the finals of the 10 meter Air Pistol event and would not even qualify in the finals of his favorite event i.e. the 50-meter pistol event.
Abhinav Bindra finished just off the podium in the 10 meter Air Rifle event in his last hurrah. The Indian shooting contingent returned empty-handed from the 2016 Rio Olympics. This was quite a shock for the Indian sporting fraternity.
The disappointing performance of the Indian shooting team at the 2016 Rio Olympics set alarm bells ringing at the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI). Strict corrective action was taken by the federation and the tides turned completely.
Since 2017, the Indian shooting contingent has won 43 gold, 21 silver and 17 bronze medals overall at the ISSF World Cup series. This is the best haul of medals by any contingent in the World Cup series in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics which shows the absolute dominance of the Indian shooting team in this Olympic cycle.
The Indian shooting contingent also came up with solid performances at the 2018 Asian and Commonwealth Games. So what exactly brought about these revolutionary changes in the Indian shooting team? Let's have a look at certain factors which inspired these changes;
The changing narrative of Indian shooting
Shooting, for the most part, was thought to be a rich man's leisure sport. This narrative was not completely wrong either until the start of the last decade. We have heard stories of Olympians like Gagan Narang whose family struggled to arrange money to buy the equipment required for shooting.
Many talented shooters, who could not arrange finances to pursue shooting, would join the Indian army. There were two ways to become a sports shooter, either take birth with a silver spoon in your mouth or become an army marksman.
But since the 2012 Olympics, shooting academies like 'Gun for Glory', which is co-owned by Gagan Narang, has provided opportunities for many young shooters from various sections of society to just focus on shooting and not worry about the costs involved. Many such initiatives have been taken up by the NRAI as well. These initiatives have surely made shooting more viable for weaker sections of society, and have resulted in unleashing the talent of many young Indian shooters.
The emergence of young talents in Indian shooting
This reason is a direct consequence of the factor mentioned above. Shooting is one sport where mental strength holds more importance than physical strength. Over the current Olympic cycle, we have seen the emergence of teenage prodigies like Saurabh Chaudhary, Manu Bhaker and Divyansh Singh Panwar. The scores these shooters have been putting up in their respective events at the World Cups and continental games have been absolutely mind-blowing.
This can be linked to the fact that these young shooters don't have any baggage to carry with them. They have been conditioned in a way that they don't feel the weight of expectations. It will be hard to tell whether they will crack under Olympic pressure or not, but the way they have been trained, Olympic pressure might actually end up bringing out the best in them.
Mental conditioning being given importance
This factor has been one of the most important reasons as to why the Indian shooting has achieved what it has in the past four years.
This aspect has been time and again mentioned by Abhinav Bindra as being an important factor in every sport, not just shooting. Indian shooting coaches have given it due recognition in this Olympic cycle which is why our shooters have been in a mental space where they have detached themselves from all the noise of expectations and criticism surrounding them.
NRAI providing the best facilities
None of the above would have been possible without a proactive sports federation. The Indian shooting contingent has never looked this strong in the lead up to any Olympics. NRAI has provided the best facilities to its shooters.
Be it nurturing young talent, providing them with the required mental support or working out all the logistics for their training tour to Croatia during the pandemic, the federation has left no stone unturned.
The Indian shooting contingent, which is currently training in Croatia, will make sure to rectify their flaws, if any, in the lead up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. They are well prepared and confident to bring home a rich haul of medals but as they say 'it is never done until it is done'.