Indian shooters take fresh aim after Tokyo Olympics low
Young pistol shooters Saurabh Chaudhary, Esha Singh and Rhythm Sangwan shone in the year's first World Cup in Cairo with India topping the medals table.
Indian shooters were not exactly seeking swift redemption in the year’s first ISSF World Cup (rifle/pistol) in Cairo that ended on Monday. It was more about taking that first step towards regaining their confidence after the Tokyo Olympics debacle.
A team of 24 shooters, chosen on the basis of performances at the national championships after the selection trials were cancelled due to the wave of Covid’s Omicron variant, was a mix of new and old with only five Tokyo Olympians. Yet, the failure in Tokyo was on the minds of the shooters. In that respect, India topping the medal tally—four gold, two silver and one bronze—augurs well in a season that has the world championships and the opening of quota spots for the 2024 Paris Olympics besides the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.
India’s performance was lifted by Saurabh Chaudhary. The youngster did what he excels at; shoot gold. In the final against Germany’s Michael Schwald, Chaudhary was steady and kept ahead, winning 16-6. Chaudhary was the only Indian shooter among 15 to reach the final in Tokyo, but he finished seventh. His ninth World Cup gold will help restore his self-belief.
Adding to Chaudhary’s success was that of 17-year-old Esha Singh. The teenager, who has been waiting in the wings, made a successful transition to the top level by winning three medals. Esha was part of the 25m and 10m air pistol teams that won gold. She also landed the air pistol individual silver, losing to Greek world and Olympic champion Anna Korakaki. Rhythm Sangwan, also in her first World Cup, shone with team gold in 25m pistol—with Esha and seasoned Rahi Sarnobat—and rapid fire mixed event with Anish Bhanwala. It showed the depth of the pistol team.
The rifle team did not excel but there were positives. Shreya Agrawal, a promising junior also making her World Cup debut, missed qualification for the final by a mere 0.1 point.
“The best way to wipe out bad memories is to do it in a competition and in that respect the shooters have done well in Cairo. When a team does well collectively, it lifts everyone’s confidence,” rifle coach Deepali Deshpande said from Cairo.
“I am glad we took the decision to participate in Cairo despite the selection trials not taking place. It was a new range, huge and beautiful and far away from the city. It was a lot windy, very tricky for the 3P (three position) shooters but all of them kept their nerves and shot very well."
Deshpande said how during a competition sandstorm left even her feet covered in sand. The venue will also stage the October world championships that will offer the first quota spots for the Paris Olympics. “Some top teams like China were not participating but we had several shooters who were playing in a World Cup for the first time and this experience of a big stage will help. Then there were individuals who had made it to the squad after a long time. All of them were able to handle the anxiety and pressure of a big competition,” she said.
Considering that the National Rifle Association of India has a new selection policy that bars shooters from participating in more than two World Cups in a season, the year’s first ISSF event was useful in adjusting to a new competition format of three stages after the qualification rounds—semi-finals and final leading to a gold medal match. The policy was drawn up after the Tokyo Olympics to keep the shooters fresh for major events. It remains to be seen how it impacts shooters in the long run as many of them have dominated World Cups in the last two seasons.
India medals at ISSF World Cup in Cairo (rifle/pistol)
10m air pistol: Saurabh Chaudhary
25m pistol team-women: Rahi Sarnobat, Rhythm Sangwan, Esha Singh
10m air pistol team-women: Ruchita Vinerkar, Esha Singh, Shri Nivetha Paramantham
25m rapid fire pistol-mixed: Rhythm Sangwan and Anish Bhanwala
10m air pistol: Esha Singh
25m rapid fire—team men: Anish Bhanwala, Gurpreet Singh, Bhavesh Shekhawat
50m 3 position-mixed team: Shriyanka Sadangi, Akhil Sheoran