India’s shooters hit the mark in World Cup series
At the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) Munich World Cup in May, participants and coaches from around the globe were talking about an “Indian tsunami” sweeping through the ranges in major events this year. The Indian coaches had a smart retort, “It is just a small wave; the tsunami is yet to come.”
Late on Monday, at the end of four ISSF Rifle/Pistol World Cup stages (New Delhi, Beijing, Munich and Rio de Janeiro), Indian shooters have collected a staggering 22 medals, including 16 golds, finishing the cycle of World Cups as the world’s leading shooting nation for the very first time. Powerhouse China, with 31 medals in total but only six golds, finished second.
To put the unprecedented haul in perspective, Indian pistol and rifle shooters had won only 11 gold medals in the history of ISSF World Cups till 2018.
The performance puts India in strong reckoning for a rich medal haul in the Tokyo Olympics considering the World Cups this year featured the strongest competition — with Olympic quota places up for grabs, the field was packed with world champions and Olympic medallists.
India’s show in Rio was capped by two teenage sensations — Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker, both 17, who defeated the second Indian team of Yashaswini Deswal and Abhishek Verma in a close final for a gold-silver finish in the 10m pistol event. For Bhaker and Chaudhary, it was a clean sweep this season; the pair won gold medals in mixed team air pistol in all the four World Cups, starting with New Delhi in February.
The mixed team events are a recent addition to the Olympics, and India have dominated the category in air rifle too. Anjum Moudgil and Divyansh Panwar have won gold medals in Beijing and Munich, where they defeated compatriots Apurvi Chandela and Deepak Kumar. In Rio, Chandela and Kumar bagged gold while Moudgil and Panwar took bronze.
India’s final tally at the Rio World Cup stood at five gold, two silver and two bronze medals. Such was India’s domination that second placed China and four other nations got only one gold each.
India have so far bagged nine quota places for 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and there will be one more opportunity at the Asian Shooting Championships in Doha from November 3-11. Twelve Indian shooters qualified for the Rio Olympics, and with India still to win a berth in shotgun events, the tally is expected to go past the 2016 mark.
Star shooter and London Olympics bronze medallist Gagan Narang hoped Indian shooters are able to “carry this momentum” going into an Olympics year.
“How the performance of our shooters is going to translate as Olympic successes is going to be a benchmark,” Narang said. “Because this is unprecedented and I hope that we have an unprecedented medal haul in shooting at the Tokyo Olympics. The key will be to keep this momentum going into 2020 and not exhaust it before that.”
Narang warned that the Olympics will present a whole new level of competition.
“Other countries will be ready to give a different level of performance because its Olympics and our shooters have to be ready,” he said.
Narang’s protégé, 20-year-old Elavenil Valarivan, won her first World Cup gold medal in Rio, becoming only the third Indian shooter to win a World Cup gold in the women’s 10m air rifle category, which India has dominated this year. Chandela was on top of the podium in New Delhi and Munich.
In the recent world rankings, Valarivan jumped to No 3 — Chandela and Moudgil ranked No 1 and No 2 respectively.
“Our performance is getting better and better,” said former shooter and chief coach with the junior rifle team, Deepali Deshpande.
Deshpande, who along with former shooters Suma Shirur and Anjali Bhagwat were the pioneers for India in women’s 10m air rifle before becoming coaches, said that the current performance of shooters is because a system had been put in place, so the base was ready. “The best part is we are not yet at our maximum potential. We are still growing,” she said.