The last time an Olympic qualifying shooting tournament was held in India was in 2003. Then, a 26-year-old Manavjit Singh Sandhu finished third in trap, but missed out on a quota place. The quotas were bagged by Great Britain’s Ian Peel, who won gold and Australia’s Adam Vella, who finished second.
Thirteen years on, Sandhu and a host of Indian shooters hope to book their berths for the Rio Olympics amid familiar settings of the Karni Singh shooting range, the venue of the Asia Olympic Qualifying Competition which is the last chance to qualify for the Games.
“Every day is a new day,” Sandhu said, ruling out home advantage even as many of his past and present teammates are giving him favourable odds to book a berth.
The narrative from the pistol ranges was slightly different.
“Already there is pressure on people who haven’t won a quota yet. The name itself may add to it: the Asia Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Some will definitely feel the nerves,” said former pistol shooter Ronak Pandit, who trains Heena Sidhu and Rahi Sarnobat.
A case in point is Indian shooters’ subdued performance at the 2015 Asian Airgun Championships in October, where many of the established names such as Jitu Rai struggled in front of the home crowd. Even India pistol coach Pavel Smirnov said the tournament came at a bad time after the Kuwait meet in November was stripped of quota places. “There will be nerves whether you are shooting at home or abroad. Even a world champion feels it if he is shooting at a tournament after winning the gold medal. But the key is how individuals react. We have done all we could. Now let’s see how many quotas we get,” Smirnov said.
On Wednesday, the fate of a few will be decided, including Sidhu’s, who will be participating in the 10m air pistol event. The same is the case for women’s trap shooters Olympian Shagun Chowdhury, Rajeshwari Kumari and Shreyasi Singh.