India could well and truly be on way to becoming a shooting superpower in the next three-four years given the way the marksmen have consistently hit the bull's eye this year. In fact, 2006 has been the year when Indians have reaped the benefits of hard work over the last decade.
A record haul of three gold medals — 10m air rifle (senior), 10m air rifle (junior) and trap — at the quadrennial World Championships in Zagreb, a clean sweep at the Asian Clay Championships in Singapore, a host of World Cup medals, including gold at Guangzhou by rifle marksman Gagan Narang, and not to forget the 27-medal haul at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne — have indeed put India in the elite group.
For the first time, an Indian — Olympic silver-medallist double trap shooter RVS Rathore — clinched bronze in the elite World Cup finals at Madrid recently. Only the best are invited to the event, and it is due to India's growing prowess that five shooters were invited to the blue riband tournament.
Shooting's five year plan
"We have finally broken the jinx," says chief national coach Sunny Thomas. "Now, we can expect more medals at the Olympics and the Asian Games… Rathore's exploits at the Athens Olympics have a lot to do with India's growing clout at the international level.
"However, I won't say that India has emerged as a superpower yet. There is a lot of hope. The Russians took away nine out of 15 gold at the Madrid World Cup finals."
Veteran trap marksman, Moraad Ali Khan, many times national champion, says: "Three or four years is all that are needed to be on top… After the 1982 Asiad, there was a huge slump and nothing happened for the next 10 years. I remember the days when a clay pigeon used to cost Rs 16 and we were using 'pigeons' imported in 1982 even in 1993. We used to buy the local ones produced in Old Delhi and seven out of 10 used to break even before 'take off'."
Needed: policy, encouragement
Moraad points out that he and Mansher Singh were pioneers in putting Indian clay shooters on the international map. "Whereas not a single team qualified for 10 years between 1983 and 1993, we are bagging medals by the bagful now," he says.
Rifle marksman and CEO of the website 'indianshooting.com' (the only website dedicated to shooting in the country), Shimon Sharif, says: "Indian shooting has a realistic chance to dominate the world. There are a whole lot of youngsters with world-level scores waiting to explode."
The sport has come a full circle and new stars are being born every day. Indian shooters are just a few steps away from the very top, occupied by China and Russia. "The only thing needed is a relaxed import policy, facilities and encouragement. We are the best," Sharif says.