WORLD TRAP champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu may be India's best hope for a medal at the Beijing Olympic Games, but veteran Mansher Singh can never be underestimated.
On the opening day of the Asian Clay Championships at the picturesque O.A.S.E.S range on Friday, Mansher gave more than just a hint of his Olympic preparation by notching up 73/75 in the three preliminary rounds in trap, to be placed joint second and a point behind Doha Asian Games gold-medallist and Beijing qualifier, Nasser Muqlid of Kuwait.
"It turned out to be a superb day for me…once I get the feel, I always do well," said Mansher, who at 45 is looking forward to his fourth Olympic Games with renewed vigour.
"I don't know how I missed the opening shot in the first round…otherwise I would have been joint leader," said the Delhiite.
On a day when the organisers could have done better by putting a couple of dummy shooters in Zagreb World Championship gold-medallist Manavjit's pool, the lanky Indian probably lost his rhythm to be placed joint fourth with 69.
As is the norm, a trap range has five stations and six shooters take turns to 'kill' the clay birds. But with just three marksmen in Manavjit's pool, the actual time between shots got reduced, and this perhaps upset the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna recipient's rhythm.
"They could have put a couple of dummy shooters (who could have just stood at the stations and not shot)," said a peeved Marcello Dradi, Manavjit's Italian coach.
"Never mind, he will come back strongly tomorrow… he is your best shooter and I am sure he will bring home a gold medal for your country from the Olympics," said Dradi.
It was a day when the first seven positions - barring one by Chen Chien Yi of Chinese-Taipei - were cornered by Kuwaitis and Indians.
Muqlid had two perfect rounds and dropped just one bird in the third while Mansher had two rounds of 24 followed by a perfect one.
Another Indian figuring in the top-seven was Birendeep Sodhi (67). There will be two more classification rounds of 25 each on Saturday, followed by the final.
1. Nasser Muqlid (Kuw) 25, 25, 24: (74/75); 2. Mansher Singh (Ind) 24, 24, 25: (73); Abdul Rahman Al-Faihan (Kuw) 25, 25, 23: (73); 4. Manavjit Singh (Ind) 23, 22, 24 (69); Chen Chien Yi (Tpe) 22, 24, 23 (69); 6. Khaled Al-Mudaf (Kuw) 24, 20, 24 (68); 7. Birendeep Sodhi (Ind) 23, 23, 21 (67).
No one does it better than the Italians
Wearing luminous blue T-shirts, designer shades, guns slung round their shoulders and a gait almost bordering on arrogance, they move around in a group and are the cynosure of all eyes at the O.A.S.E.S. shooting range.
World leaders in shotgun shooting, the Italians are here for the clay shooting grand prix, which is running concurrently with the Asian Clay Championships.
The country, home to world record holders like Giovanni Pellielo, Marcello Tittarelli, Marco Venturini in trap in the 90s and skeet champion Andrea Benelli at the 2006 World Championships in Zagreb, is a trendsetter. It's not without reason that India's top three --- Manavjit Singh, R.V.S. Rathore and Mansher Singh --- train in Italy.
"I know your trap world champion Manavjit is training in Lonato. Even (double-trap marksman) Rathore regularly trains with Marcello Dradi," says twin Olympic gold-medallist Giovannetti Lucano, national junior coach of the Italian team.
In his mid-70s, the man commands near reverence from his wards. "It's not easy to be the best in the world with the Chinese, Americans and other European countries coming in a big way," he says as one of his wards doubled up as an interpreter.
"Our success lies in the fact that we concentrate well and train as hard as we can," says Lucano.
The former chief national coach (1993-2004), the veteran feels other countries are not yet set to upstage the Italians from their pedestal. "Italy is not coming down, our goals are going up.
"The fact that our men have clinched all six Beijing Olympic quota places (2 trap, 2 skeet and 2 double-trap) and another two in the women's section shows we are still the best."
Indeed they are as the Indians train under an Italian coach, use top-end Italian guns and many of the ranges here are fitted with Matarelli machines.
The Italians are still the best in the business of 'killing' birds and selling guns.