So forceful was the performance of Indian shooters on the international stage in 2006 that it was not just the medals — which came in a rush — but six marksmen also qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
If Samresh Jung triggered the gold-hunt at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne to earn the nickname ‘Goldfinger’, what followed was simply unthinkable. And, sure enough, the year ended on a high with an almost forgotten face — Jaspal Rana — coming out smoking in true James Bond style at the Doha Asian Games.
In between the two major events, Gagan Narang, Anjali Bhagwat, RVS Rathore and Avneet Kaur Sidhu battled it out at the demanding World Cups to book their tickets for Beijing, but the biggest bang came at the World Championships in Zagreb.
Two world champions at the same time — Abhinav Bindra in air rifle and Manavjit Singh Sandhu in trap — was indeed the biggest achievement ever by Indian marksmen. And Manavjit emerged as the outright winner in the choice for the year’s best performer.
The scores and medals apart, Manavjit towers above the rest for sheer consistency and class. Just take a look at his statistics. Each time Manavjit competed in 2006, he was in the final. Be it Melbourne, the Kerville World Cup in the US, the World Championships at Zagreb, the Asian clay pigeon championship in Singapore or the Asian Games, Manavjit was in the final seven times in-a-row and ended the year as World No.1.
Coming as it were after two successful finals last year, Manavjit’s record has been awesome, as he had ended 2005 with two straight finals. He could have made it to one more final, but opted out of the season-ending World Cup finals.
To pick the season’s best shooter in a year at home is usually a battle between three at the most. But in 2006, it is not just the multiplicity of medals the trap champion won, but also his form from start to finish that zeroed down the choice to just one. But the modest man, who gets married on December 24, still has his head on his shoulders.
From the Indian point of view, medals at the Asian Games count heavily. Jaspal Rana did shoot a world record-equalling 590 in centre-fire at Doha, but the trap gold in Zagreb was the biggest effort.
To be in a field of over 125 shooters and facing the elements is not easy. And, unlike the top marksmen from other parts of the world, Manavjit was shooting with a borrowed gun from the Sports Authority of India. He never spoke of it till he returned home.
But, for the man with an unflappable temperament, he is still modest when asked to comment on being adjudged the best of 2006. “It’s not just medals, we have won laurels for the country. I know 2006 has been a hard grind for me, but I keep reminding myself that I have to work even harder in 2007, because I have to trap a medal at the Beijing Olympics,” says Manavjit.