Quietly confident: India's shooters shut out the noise
With a total of 33 gold medals on offer, Indian shooters will enter the Fuyang Yinhu Sports Centre on Sunday with quiet confidence and a fair bit of mystique
Shooting has, for long, been among India's most bankable sports at every major multi-discipline competition, and the Hangzhou Asian Games are no different. The heightened anticipation around the shooters, despite them firing blanks in Tokyo, is partly a result of the sport being dropped from last year's Birmingham Commonwealth Games but largely a function of shooters doing exceedingly well at various World Cups since the Olympics debacle.
This year, Indian shooters have scooped 26 medals from all World Cups in Olympic events, their best tally since 2019 when they bagged 22. There are also 14 World Championships medals they won in Baku last month to draw heart from. Yet, if the maddening buzz that surrounded the squad in the last Olympics cycle is missing, it is by design.
The silence continued on the eve of their first medal event with shooters firmly ensconced in their cocoons. Media requests were politely denied, the practice schedule -- the shooters had a session at 7:30am -- was adhered to, and the grand opening ceremony was given a miss.
"The shooters are in a great frame of mind. They have had a few sessions so far and the mood in the camp is upbeat and confident," a rifle coach said.
With a total of 33 gold medals on offer, Indian shooters will enter the Fuyang Yinhu Sports Centre on Sunday with quiet confidence and a fair bit of mystique. The post-Tokyo course correction has meant a number of veterans as well as youngsters have made way for fresh talent, with none of the nine medallists from the 2018 Asian Games making the cut. And that includes gold medallists Saurabh Chaudhary and Rahi Sarnobat.
The opening day will have the 10m air rifle women where the next generation of Indian shooters will be on show. Led by World Championships bronze medallist Mehuli Ghosh, junior world champion in team as well as individual event Ramita, and two-time World Cup medallist Ashi Chouksey, India will hope to fire a resounding opening salvo. At 22, Ghosh is the oldest and the most experienced of the three but the youngster is revelling in the opportunity.
"It's a big responsibility, but I'll be ready," she had said before landing here. Rifle coach Suma Shirur also backed the young rifle shooters, claiming that a productive opening day is a real possibility.
"It is a well-travelled squad that can adjust to any situation. We have had a number of simulation matches and the scores they have been shooting are world class. There's no reason the contingent can't beat its 2018 Asiad haul," she had said earlier.
It won't be as easy though. The Chinese have fielded world No.1 Jiayu Han and world No.2 Zhilin Wang while world No. 14 Yuting Huang, 17, is already a four-time World Championships medallist. Tilottama Sen, the lone Indian in world top 10, could not make it to the Asian Games team.
The opening day will also have the qualification round of the men's 25m rapid-fire pistol event where India's Anish Bhanwala, Vijayveer Sidhu, and Adarsh Singh will be in action.
The 10m air rifle men's competition, another event where India will hope for a podium, will be held on Monday. In world champion Rudrankksh Patil, Aishwarya Pratap Singh Tomar, and Divyansh Singh Panwar, India have the talent to end the wait for gold in the elite event.
The men's 10m rifle lane has produced three Indian medallists so far, and all three medals have come in the last three editions -- Gagan Narang (silver, 2010), Abhinav Bindra (bronze, 2014), and Deepak Kumar (silver, 2018). Indian young guns thus have the stage perfectly set to create history, they just need to find the bull's eye!